Gazette, Advocate employees form Pioneer Valley NewsGuild: Labor union seeks greater voice in company decision-making

  • Tony Vacchelli, a pressman at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, proofs a publication coming off the press Monday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Vacchelli and Richard Diemand, both pressmen at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, proof a publication coming off the press Monday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Vacchelli, a pressman at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, proofs a publication coming off the press Monday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette 
Published: 11/12/2018 10:21:22 PM

Editor’s note: This story was reported by freelance reporter Maureen O’Reilly and edited by editor in chief Brooke Hauser and managing editor Dan Crowley. We will continue to report on major developments to keep you, our readers, informed.

NORTHAMPTON – Employees of the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Valley Advocate have formed the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild, a labor union with the mission of providing employees a voice in company decisions.

The union seeks voluntary recognition by Newspapers of New England, the owners of the Gazette and the Advocate, meaning that they hope to sit down with management and negotiate without forcing a union election, according to Gazette employees interviewed. 

Many of the newly unionized employees highlighted frustration with what they describe as a lack of voice and transparency in managerial decisions, shifting job descriptions and gender disparities in pay. The issue of pay disparities was previously reported in the Gazette in February and, employees say, sparked efforts to begin to build a union. Management has since taken steps to correct this issue.

Brenda Nelson, who has worked as a librarian for the Gazette for over six years, noted that workplace frustration was the catalyst that led to conversations to start a union.

“We would try to brainstorm how to improve things, and through these conversations we came up with the idea,” Nelson said. “The employees don’t seem to have a lot of input. (We’re) looking to have a seat at the table, looking to have our ideas heard by management.”

The Pioneer Valley NewsGuild consists of 72 employees and pulls from various departments at both the Advocate and the Gazette, including accounting, advertising, circulation, design, editorial, maintenance and press, according to a news release issued by the union on Monday. Employees must not hold managerial positions to be eligible for the union. 

Michael Rifanburg, publisher of the Massachusetts newspapers owned by Newspapers of New England, including the Gazette and the Advocate, said in a statement Monday that, “We think the world of employees at the Gazette who all work hard every day to make the Gazette a great paper. It’s premature, however, for us to comment at this time.”

 Building of a union

A small organizing committee comprised of Gazette and Advocate employees worked with an organizer from the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, a union that serves over 25,000 news media workers across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.  

NewsGuild-CWA provided guidance to employees in building a union, such as legal information and an organizer, said Dane Kuttler, who has worked in classified advertising for 17 months. The organizer, unnamed by Gazette and Advocate employees, came to Northampton to conduct trainings and provide a clarifying, expert voice, Kuttler said. In the case of arbitration with management, the NewsGuild lawyers would also provide guidance, Kuttler said. 

A representative of NewsGuild-CWA could not be reached for comment Monday. 

The process of creating a union was kept a secret in the workplace because it allowed a small, but growing organizing committee to work without pressure, Kuttler said. Union membership grew through conversations with colleagues about their frustrations.

“It’s an American workplace. People gripe,” Kuttler said.

Although the NewsGuild provided assistance to the employees in building a union, it was up to Gazette and Advocate employees to do “the gritty work” of organizing, gain support from their coworkers, collect signatures and create media responses, Kuttler said. The union members presented Newspapers of New England representatives with a petition on Monday. 

“I want to emphasize that (the union) came from the people of the Gazette and Advocate, not from outside agitation. Nobody came up to us and said, ‘Hey, this could give you good benefits,’ ” said Bera Dunau, a reporter who has worked at the Gazette for more than a year. “(The organizer) doesn’t do the work for us, we are the ones who go and talk to our coworkers and find out what their needs are.”

Nelson noted that high turnover has had a negative effect on the work environment.

“Because the workplace is sometimes chaotic, we do not have the retention that would make the work easier,” Nelson said, noting that institutional knowledge leaves when employees do.

“It does lead to a lot of uncertainty,” she added.

Dunau said that employees of other news organizations, like the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, have formed unions. “It is no coincidence that we are joining a national trend,” Dunau said.

Going forward, the union members are hoping for a quick response from the company’s management and to engage in a dialogue.

“We don’t want to fight. We do not want to have any kind of battle with the management. We want to sit down and bargain with good faith,” Dunau said.

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