Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Daily Hampshire Gazette workers unionize amidst lack of democracy in managerial decisions

Reporters unionize and set to vote in upcoming election, gaining support of Senator Elizabeth Warren

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Daily Hampshire Gazette workers unionize amidst lack of democracy in managerial decisions

(Caeli Chesin/ Collegian)

(Caeli Chesin/ Collegian)

(Caeli Chesin/ Collegian)

(Caeli Chesin/ Collegian)

By Irina Costache, Assistant News Editor

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After facing high turnover rates and gender pay disparities, groups of workers from the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Valley Advocate media group have unionized in an effort to gain a voice in advocating for themselves.

The union, named the Pioneer Valley Newsguild, is a comprehensive initiative that has gained the support of the full staff at the Gazette and Advocate. The Newsguild, which is to host a union election on Dec. 12, is seeking voluntary recognition from their management, Newspapers of New England Inc.

“There’s a sense of hope and vibrancy when you walk through the door. There’s a lot more smiling and talking…we see a better future for us here, we see a long-term future,” said staff writer Bera Dunau, commenting on the work environment since going public with the union.

Forming the union

Earlier this year, a group of female reporters working for NNE advocated for better policies regarding pay when the issue of gender disparities surfaced. The group was successfully able to instate more equitable pay scales. Demonstrating the power in sticking together, this action is what Dunau said initially sparked interest in forming a union.

Throughout the last year, staff at the Gazette saw a large amount of change, spanning from turnovers in the director and publisher positions, changes in job descriptions, and even the loss of the graphics department. “There has been very much a culture of ‘we’re not sure when the ax is going to fall…that kind of fear and that kind of instability is what made me start thinking about organizing,’” said Dane Kuttler, a classified advertising representative for the Gazette.

Before going public with their decision to unionize, staff members spoke with coworkers and planned the effort behind closed doors. Kuttler explained that the group placed emphasis on designing their vision and gathering substantial support, furthering that “we agreed, and we held each other to this: ‘We are not going forward until we have our landslide.’”

The union did achieve this goal, gathering 72 employees from the Gazette and Advocate to join. The PVN also reached out to the Communications Workers of America and through a liaison, they have been helping the group in facilitating negotiations and with legal work.

Union efforts

Seeking a more democratic managerial process where workers are supported, are able to share their ideas and take part in decision making, the PVN states on their website that “Management will no longer be allowed to make sudden changes in personnel, benefits, or compensation.”

Since the beginning of the movement, the PVN has advocated for voluntary recognition from NNE. Though it has not yet been achieved, representatives have stated that this will continue to be their long-term goal.

In the meantime, the union has applied to the National Labor Relations Board to host a union election, setting the official voting day to Dec. 12 according to a press release. With support from 70 percent of eligible voters, the union is confident in their ability to win and establish themselves.

Aaron Julien, president and CEO of NNE, met with staff members who presented him with a petition in early November. In a response letter, Julien stated that “adding a union to the mix will erode this newspaper,” but also communicated a wish to “restore a sense of shared goals.”

Managers from NNE did not reply to requests for comment.

“A lot of what this [effort] is based off of is that we love the Gazette, we want it’s long-term health to be viable and we want this paper to continue on for decades,” said Dunau.

Furthering, Ketter stated, “I care that [the paper] becomes a thing that people are proud of.”

The union also hosted a concert on Dec. 3 to build solidarity and engagement within the community. Featuring various bands from around the Pioneer Valley, proceeds from the concert went to a Good Will Fund, which was used to provide for Gazette and Advocate workers in need.

Community support

On Tuesday, Nov. 27, a group of leaders from around the Pioneer Valley, headed by Senator-elect Jo Comerford, delivered a petition to Aaron Julien in support of the Pioneer Valley Newsguild. The petition urged Julien to respect the initiative of his employees through recognizing them voluntarily.

Comerford commented, “I believe that unions make us stronger. And, in the post Janus-era, I think it’s more important than ever for pro-union folks to offer solidarity when we can.” She furthered that she intends to continue supporting the union in the future.

Signed by 200 people, the petition features “elected officials, former NNE employees, local teachers, college professors, high school and college students, union leaders, subscribers, concerned residents and others,” according to a press release.

Kuttler, in support of the PVN and the petition to Julien, said “That was, honestly, one of the most incredible moments we’ve had in this whole thing… that is a whole other level of ‘not alone.’”

On Dec. 3, the union also received the support of Senator Elizabeth Warren. In a letter to NNE CEO Julien, Warren stated “These two newspapers, and the local, high-quality journalism that they produce, play a crucial role in the western Massachusetts communities that they serve.”

Irina Costache can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @irinaacostache.

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