Labor board sides with Record-Courier journalists, setting up union vote

Image of the Record Courier union logo

The National Labor Relations Board has sided with Record-Courier workers in a dispute over whether the newsroom can join the local chapter of The NewsGuild, paving the way for a union vote next week.

The journalists filed petitions to unionize in July 2021. Gannett Media Corporation, which also owns the Akron Beacon-Journal and several other Ohio newspapers, refused to voluntarily recognize the union and challenged their filing before the NLRB. 

Gannett argued the Record-Courier employees should not be allowed to join the existing Beacon-Journal union, whose lowest-paid journalists earn more than the Record-Courier’s highest-paid. However, the same editor oversees both newsrooms.

This week, NLRB Regional Director Iva Choe disagreed with Gannett and ruled in the union’s favor, authorizing a March 15 vote. The NLRB will count the ballots on April 6.

“We are excited about this precedent-setting ruling, which makes history for the Record-Courier,” said Diane Smith, senior news reporter who has been involved in the union effort from the beginning. “However, this delay comes at a great cost to Portage County. Two of our reporters, both enthusiastic union supporters, resigned in recent months, both driven out by low pay.”

The Record-Courier is down to two news reporters, two sports reporters and one photographer.

After the first reporter quit, Gannett said it would replace her but never did, Smith said. The second longtime reporter, Bob Gaetjens, who primarily covered local businesses, resigned this week. 

Record-Courier news and sports reporters are paid between $13.23 and $18.17 per hour, according to NLRB findings. The sole photographer earns $17.10 an hour. Beacon Journal news and sports reporters are paid between $19.50 and $30.79 per hour, and photographers earn anywhere from $20.75 to $27.60 per hour.

The five remaining reporters and photojournalist will vote whether to join forces with the existing union at the Beacon-Journal, a move designed to gain leverage and bargaining power for the smaller staff. The Akron newsroom has been represented by the guild for more than 80 years.

“After our victory, we look forward to negotiating a fair contract, one that will address pay inequities and ensure the strength of local news for Portage County,” Smith said. 

The staff is unionizing with Local 1 of the NewsGuild-CWA, which also represents their unionized Gannett counterparts at the Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository and Massillon Independent.

The Dix family sold Record Publishing in 2017 to GateHouse Media, a Virginia-based media conglomerate, which changed its name to Gannett following a corporate merger in 2019. Gannett is now the largest newspaper publisher in the country.

Since the ownership change, several journalists have been laid off, including the editor, Roger Di Paolo, and others have resigned in frustration, Smith said. Most recently, Gaetjens and Kaitlyn McGarvey turned in their resignations, citing low pay. Both earned less than $15 per hour, despite college degrees and years of experience. 

The journalists describe their wages as “substandard.” In addition to a living wage, the journalists seek job security and a seat at the table to advocate for as much local news as possible, she added.

“Our interaction with other unionized journalists has shown us the power of collective action to save local news,” Smith said. “Over the past months we wondered why Gannett would go to so much trouble to prevent seven [now five] journalists. Now we know that we have more power than we know.”

Smith said they are fighting to prevent the Record-Courier from becoming a “ghost paper,” in which there are too few reporters to adequately cover a community of over 160,000 people.

“That is the very thing we are trying to prevent. We’re going to be advocating for stronger staffing, and I know our local management wants that, too,” she said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.