Tired of watching co-workers come and go, Desert Sun’s journalists announce union campaign

Tired of a constant cycle of layoffs and buyouts and determined to do something about it, journalists of the award-winning The Desert Sun announced Thursday that they are forming a union.

Organizers filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board and requested voluntary recognition from Gannett, the paper’s parent company. Members of the organizing committee also presented local management with the request after 90 percent of eligible staffers signed cards saying they want to be represented by The Desert Sun NewsGuild. The group will become a unit of Media Guild of the West local.

The Desert Sun NewsGuild will represent 20 reporters, producers and photographers. Key issues include increased newsroom diversity through hiring, equitable and adequate pay, job security for veteran employees, prompt hiring to fill vacancies and contracts that will allow employees to stay in the Coachella Valley long-term.

“The Desert Sun is a great newspaper, but its history of low, inequitable wages has led to a high turnover rate,” health and homelessness reporter Nicole Hayden said. “Staff invest in local small businesses and many want to raise families and buy homes here. Unionizing will allow us to earn wages that empower us to work and live here for many years.”

Colin Atagi, a Desert Sun breaking news reporter for 15 years, has seen newsroom staffing slashed by more than half since he was hired.

“Reporters and photographers have been burdened with increased workloads that impose stress both physically and mentally. Personally, I’ve watched many friends come and go due to layoffs and buyouts,” Atagi said. “The cycle is constant.”

In a signed mission statement distributed throughout the newsroom and to local management, employees wrote, “Our goal is the long-term health of The Desert Sun, its journalism, its staff and its readers. We want to ensure the newspaper remains an institution of knowledge and truth. We know our local management shares those goals, and we hope the company does, too. The best way for the paper to flourish is through collective bargaining for its journalists.”

Producer Daniel Simon, who designs multimedia packages and online resources, said, “I support the NewsGuild because, as a producer, I want to be in a newsroom where I am capable — with adequate resources and support — of continuing to build bridges between the community and our newsroom in a crucial time where the community’s trust in news has fallen.”

The union campaign at The Desert Sun is part of a surge in organizing drives in newsrooms across the country.

Gannett in particular is experiencing this trend, as it has imposed successive buyouts and layoffs and has consolidated printing, copyediting and other operations, including in the wake of a costly takeover by GateHouse Media. The Arizona Republic voted overwhelmingly to organize in 2019, and four Gannett newsrooms in Florida — the Palm Beach Post, Palm Beach Daily News, Naples Daily News and Ft. Myers News-Press — voted to unionize only hours apart this June.

Follow the group on Twitter @TDSNewsGuild or visit their website DesertSunNewsGuild.org.