Fort Worth Star-Telegram journalists go on strike, citing unfair labor practices by parent company
Reporters and other news staff members at Fort Worth Star-Telegram held signs and chanted Monday as they walked along a sidewalk near 7th Street.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it? Now!”
The newsroom’s union alleges the newspaper’s parent company, McClatchy, is not bargaining a contract in good faith. McClatchy is now owned by hedge-fund Chatham Asset Management. The union filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint in August. McClatchy also has two other complaints against it – one for repudiation/modification of a contract and another for refusal to furnish information.
Of union card holding members, 21 of 23 went on strike Monday at the Star-Telegram, said Kaley Johnson, vice president of the Fort Worth NewsGuild. There’s 27 eligible union members in the newsroom.
The strike is two years in the making, said Johnson, a justice reporter for the Star-Telegram. She said McClatchy has refused to move on contract negotiations. Among the union’s proposals is a $57,500 wage floor. McClatchy countered with a $45,000 wage floor.
“What we and other McClatchy unionized papers have seen repeatedly is that McClatchy comes to the table and does not move at all,” Johnson said. “So we’ll submit a proposal and they’ll send us back their initial proposal, which sometimes is existing company policy, and then they’ll do that again and again and again.”
The strike will not end until a fair contract has been reached, Johnson said. Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees who strike because of unfair labor practices cannot be fired or replaced while striking.
The newspaper’s executive editor, Steve Coffman, said in an emailed statement that the newspaper is serving communities in North Texas and Tarrant County.
“We continue to bargain in good faith and look forward to reaching an agreement,” Coffman wrote.
In emails sent to Star-Telegram staff and obtained by the Fort Worth Report, Coffman wrote that the company is recruiting journalists to provide full coverage of local news. It’s not clear whether those positions will be permanent or temporary. Those jobs will be posted Tuesday, he wrote.
McClatchy is also suspending striking workers’ healthcare and other benefits at the end of the month, according to an email obtained by the Fort Worth Report from McClatchy vice president of people Chris Klyse.
“An employee in an inactive status (i.e. unpaid leave) will no longer be eligible to participate in the healthcare plan effective at the end of the calendar month in which the unpaid leave begins,” Klyse wrote. “For example, an employee who begins unpaid leave Nov. 28, 2022, will see their healthcare insurance lapse at the end of the day on Nov. 30, 2022.”
Johnson said in an emailed statement that the tactics are an attempt to encourage others to cross the picket line.
“The Fort Worth NewsGuild is dedicated to fair conditions for Star-Telegram employees. No amount of union busting will change that,” Johnson said. “McClatchy can take away our benefits, but not our fight. McClatchy can post our jobs and try to replace local coverage, but our community knows better – they deserve a dedicated local staff. We are not backing down and expect McClatchy will meet us at the table this week.”
McClatchy did not respond to inquiries after The Fort Worth Report reached out for comment.
Isaac Windes, president of the Fort Worth NewsGuild and an early childhood education reporter, said workers who are striking aren’t getting paid. The union has raised $13,575 in a strike fund on GoFundMe. Windes said he views the strike as a necessary action.
“We’re all here all … feeling good and kind of ready to get this contract,” Windes said. “So I think we’re ready to be done, really. And this is pushing us towards that resolution.”
Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at Poynter, said it’s uncertain how the strike will go. Newspaper strikes used to be common more than 20 years ago, when advertising accounted for more than 80 percent of revenues. A worker stoppage won’t hurt the company’s bottomline as much as it did in the past, he said. That’s one reason Edmonds thinks there haven’t been as many strikes since the shift in revenue.
“A strike didn’t seem to have as much leverage when the economic consequences were not going to be as great for the employer,” Edmonds said.
Media organizations are increasingly unionizing. This is the third strike nationally by journalists since August. Nearly 300 workers at Reuters went on strike for a day in August. Staff at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are also striking, the nation’s first newspaper strike in decades.
There’s been eight labor actions such as strikes in Texas this year, according to a Labor Action Tracker at Cornell University. There’s been 626 across the country.
Jon Schleuss, president of The NewsGuild Communications Workers United, which represents 27,000 members, said striking has worked in the past. The McClatchy-owned Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Bradenton Herald ratified contracts after newsroom staff walked out of the office for a day April 1.
McClatchy and the Fort Worth NewsGuild’s next scheduled bargaining session is Dec. 8
This story will be updated when more information is available.