Workers at The Appeal announced Monday that they are unionizing as part of The NewsGuild-CWA, just hours after journalists at The Kansas City Star announced a union drive.
More than 90 percent of eligible staffers from every department have signed union authorization cards, organizers said.
“As staff from all departments of The Appeal, we are proud of the work we do every day to produce powerful reporting, live interviews, research, and analysis,” organizers wrote in a statement. “We are glad to be part of a mission-driven media organization that exposes injustices, holds those in power accountable, and uplifts ideas that can transform our country’s harmful systems.
“But we have urgent concerns that The Appeal is straying from this mission,” they said.
“Over the last year, management has repeatedly shifted our structure and goals as an organization, including one major restructuring. Talented journalists, legal experts, researchers, communications workers, and audience engagement staff have been laid off or have felt that they were being pushed out. In the last year, 38 people have left. The Appeal typically has a staff of around 50.
“The majority of those who left were people of color, and more than two-thirds were women. This high turnover rate isn’t an aberration; it’s part of a years-long trend. In the last four and a half years, at least 70 people have left the organization,” they wrote.
Senior reporter Jerry Iannelli said, “Our staff has experienced extremely high rates of turnover, non-transparent decision-making, and a general lack of stability at The Appeal. And as we began to connect and share our experiences with one another, we pinpointed a number of urgent and recurring issues in our workplace that continue to hold us back from doing our very best work.”
To justify the constant turnover, management’s refrain has been that The Appeal is a “low democracy” workplace, organizers said.
“It is our goal to create a high democracy workplace — one where the staff has a seat at the table when it comes to working conditions, job security, and decision-making.”
“As someone who has been at this organization for two years and through a number of iterations, I believe that The Appeal Union is our best bet at ensuring that leadership and staff can reconcile and find solutions to systemic problems that we face here,” said senior legal analyst Brandi McNeil. “We are a mission-driven outlet that claims to center the most vulnerable in our communities and seeks to help create a more just and equitable future. In order to do that work, we must first live up to those values ourselves. We must practice what we preach.”
Staffers say they want to create a workplace where they can offer feedback without fear of retaliation, and where exceptionally high rates of turnover are no longer the norm. “We know that The Appeal can be a place that is stable, compassionate, just, and transparent, where racial and gender equity are priorities, not buzzwords, and where we all have a say in the direction of the organization,” organizers said.
They asked management commit to a collaborative, good-faith relationship by voluntarily recognizing the union and respecting the right to organize.
Shortly after announcing their plans to unionize, they tweeted this:
“Five minutes after we emailed management asking them to voluntarily recognize our union, The Appeal’s executive director, Rob Smith, emailed staff saying there will be layoffs. We have reason to believe management was aware of our plans to unionize and that this was retaliation.”
Reaction was swift, with widespread condemnation and charges that the layoffs were illegal retaliation.
Workers organized a petition for supporters to urge management to immediately rescind the layoffs, cease job cuts, and recognize the union.