The Lone Star State hasn’t seen a union newspaper in three decades, but journalists at The Dallas Morning News and Al Día voted heavily in favor of union representation, the National Labor Relations Board said last week.
The 84-28 vote for the union is the result of the newsrooms’ yearlong battle to be able to negotiate with management “to build a more stable and secure environment so that local journalism can thrive,” according to their mission statement.
Union organizers said they wanted better protection for newsroom employees.
Serious talks of unionizing began last year after the News laid off 43 employees, the latest in a long series of layoffs at the paper. In the months that followed, organizers tracked down members of staff to develop an understanding of what their colleagues needed to feel protected.
When DMN and Al Día staff announced in July that they were looking to unionize, they said the company didn't distribute personal protective equipment to newsroom staff until they were weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic and no security detail was provided when covering protests.
"Our ultimate goal is to protect local journalism through Al Dia Dallas and The Dallas Morning News," Al Día Dallas reporter Imelda Garcia said at the time.
The publications’ parent company, A.H. Belo declined to voluntarily recognize the union. So, the employees moved to hold a mail election to be monitored by the National Relations Labor Board in Fort Worth.
In a pre-pandemic world, the employees would have been able to meet and cast their vote in person, said Leah Waters, a multi-platform editor at the News and member of the Dallas News Guild, said. Having to do it all by mail complicated the process, she said. Some ballots didn’t make it to the right addresses and had to be sent again.
“It was a lot of chasing down and making sure people got the right to vote,” Waters said. “It was hard work making sure everyone’s vote counted.”
In an email to the Observer, Grant Moise, the News’ publisher, wrote, "We view this as an internal matter and therefore have no public comment." But, according to DMN, he said in a statement that the company was upset about the vote.
“We felt strongly that the best way to move forward is without a third party being inserted into our newspaper’s culture,” Moise said. “We respect the rights of these employees and will proceed forward in good faith negotiations.”
Waters said all of the union organizers have been taking a breather since the vote, but their effort is far from over. “We have just begun,” she said.
All the work done in the last year has just been to give the newsroom employees a seat at the bargaining table. “We haven’t done any of the bargaining yet,” Waters said. Their next steps, she said, include forming the bargaining committee and reaching back out to employees to ensure that what’s important to them ends up in their union-negotiated contracts.
Unionization at newspapers and digital news sites has been a trend in recent years.
Last year, the Los Angeles Times came to a tentative agreement with its newsroom's newly formed union. Two of the Observer's sister papers in the Voice Media Group chain also moved this year to form unions.
Just two days before the DMN and Al Día vote, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced it too was attempting to unionize.“No matter the owner, our union will give us a local voice,” the Star-Telegram journalists said in their announcement. “It ensures that the Star-Telegram will represent Fort Worth. It ensures we will have enough reporters, photographers and editors to cover all of the proud and diverse neighborhoods of our city and suburbs.”
Critics of newsroom unions have said that they hurt companies' profitability and fuel the layoffs they were intended to prevent. “The problem is that neither union nor management, even when operating hand in hand and heart to heart, can prevent any of those forces that are bearing down, especially on local newspapers,” Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor and media economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told Nieman Reports, an industry journal.