Statesman journalists take a stand

The staff at the Austin American-Statesman and its six community affiliates have announced plans to unionize. The newly-formed Austin NewsGuild says the “vast majority” of newsroom employees have signed union authorization cards that have been sent to the National Labor Relations Board and are asking Gannett, the media conglomerate that owns the paper, to voluntarily recognize the union and to begin bargaining with it over wages, benefits, staffing, working conditions and hiring practices. 

A press release released by the union included statements of support from a variety of reporters young and old, including 47-year sports vet Kirk Bohls, 14-year food writer Addie Broyles, 16-year editorial assistant Veronica Serrano. Over on Twitter just about every Statesman reporter/editor I follow has expressed support.

The Austin NewsGuild is an affiliate of NewsGuild, formerly the Newspaper Guild, a division of the Communication Workers of America that represents thousands of reporters at national and local publications. Unions used to be common in the news industry and many of the most prominent publications — the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal — have remained unionized. However, in the last few years a rising labor consciousness, particularly among young journalists, has led to widespread unionization in media. Recently-unionized outlets include major dailies such as the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune, prestige publications such as the Atlantic and the New Yorker, and digital outlets like Buzzfeed, Salon and Slate. 

Two years ago, when I was writing about the challenges facing the Statesman in the wake of its acquisition by Gatehouse (which has since merged with Gannett), I spoke to numerous current and former Statesman employees about the prospect of unionization and encountered little interest. Some didn’t understand the benefits and some mistakenly believed that unions couldn’t really work in Texas because it is a “right to work” state. 

In fact “right to work,” a cynical misnomer concocted by anti-union Dallas Morning News editorialist William Ruggles in 1941 and embraced by businesses in the years since, only prohibits union contracts that require workers to pay dues. It is a transparent attempt to weaken unions by creating a “freeloader” effect, but unions in RTW states enjoy all of the same federally-protected rights to bargain. Nevada, for instance, is RTW but is nevertheless home to extremely powerful unions that are credited with winning middle-class wages & benefits for unskilled workers in the gaming industry. 

In the last couple years, other papers in historically union-hostile states have organized, including staff at a number of Gannett or Gatehouse-owned papers  who have grown sick of the company’s relentless gutting of newsrooms. Notable examples at Gannett/Gatehouse include the Arizona Republic, the Southwest Florida News, the Palm Beach Post, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Delaware News Journal. 

And most notably, in October staff at the Dallas Morning News voted overwhelmingly to unionize. Days later management at the Fort Worth Star Telegram didn’t bother forcing a vote and elected to voluntarily recognize their staff’s union

According to sources, the organizing drive at the Statesman kicked off in April. As is usually the case in successful union drives, a relatively small number of employees worked deliberately and quietly to gain support for the concept among others before submitting the union petition to management. Although you only need a majority of workers to vote in support of unionization, the goal is generally to have a much stronger majority. First, because you can expect management to work hard to dissuade workers from voting yes, and second because a union that only has the support of a slim majority is not particularly strong. 

Gannett has tried to fight back against union drives in the past but in many, many cases in the last few years it has failed. I should be wary of confidence projected by the union organizers but support certainly seems to be pretty high among staff. 

I wish the Statesman staff the best in this fight. Like any community institution, the local paper is frequently flawed. But we must work to make it better. Part of making it better is supporting its workers fight to earn a decent living.

You can email letters@statesman.com to tell management in less than 150 words that you support the Statesman workers’ bid to have a seat at the table. You can also follow the union on Twitter and Instagram and make your support known to management there.

SOLIDARITY! 

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What was Adler thinking? And will Dems ever learn?

In a video posted online last night, Adler says he regrets his trip to Cabo.

You’ve probably heard the news by this point. Tony Plohetski of the Statesman/KVUE broke it:

In early November, as health officials warned of an impending COVID-19 spike, Austin Mayor Steve Adler hosted an outdoor wedding and reception with 20 guests for his daughter at a trendy hotel near downtown.

The next morning, Adler and seven other wedding attendees boarded a private jet for Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where they vacationed for a week at a family timeshare.

One night into the trip, Adler addressed Austin residents in a Facebook video: “We need to stay home if you can. This is not the time to relax. We are going to be looking really closely. … We may have to close things down if we are not careful.”

I’m as cynical as the next journalist but I was legitimately shocked. How could he make such a stupid decision? It seemed out of character –– Adler is such a square. He’s cautious to a fault.

Alas, if Adler has an even greater fault than excessive caution, it’s that he’s vulnerable to peer pressure. He doesn’t want to be the deciding vote on an issue. In instances when he has taken controversial stances –– lifting the camping ban, paid sick leave, the APD cuts –– it’s after he has been pushed to take them by much bolder pols (notably Casar). Perhaps the same dynamic is at play in Adler’s personal life: he couldn’t resist turning down an idea that friends and family assured him was fine. 

Suffice it to say, it was not fine. Sure, it was nowhere near as bad as Trump’s massive unmasked gatherings. They took precautions. The crowd was relatively small, the event was outdoors and they all apparently got Covid rapid tests. But it’s still hypocritical and certainly violates the spirit of what Adler has urged Austinites to do, even if, as he repeatedly mentioned in a lawyerly video response last night, his behavior didn’t technically violate the Stage 2 guidelines that the city was recommending at the time, which advise people to avoid gatherings greater than 25.   

The fact that he took a private jet to Cabo is icing on the cake. Similar to the revelation about the California governor and San Francisco mayor dining at an obscenely expensive restaurant with other Very Important People, it’s hard to fathom how politicians who are so used to behaving strategically could do something that they must know will be perceived so badly. It’s like they sat around thinking about the most elitist, out-of-touch thing to do and then did it.

I suppose he displayed a modicum of political caution by waiting until after the election to take the trip, although there are still two City Council runoffs that could be affected by this news. 

As Adler conceded in his video last night, the consequences of this clueless behavior are far greater than whatever direct risk the wedding/trip posed to the community. It sows distrust of government and even greater resistance to the sacrifices we’re being asked to make. It validates the belief held by a significant minority of the population that the pandemic is overblown and/or that few of the precautions we’ve been asked to take are necessary. It also fuels the even more extreme belief, held by a smaller portion of the population, that the pandemic is a complete hoax manufactured to subjugate, enslave us etc. 

Adler’s colleagues staying mum 
Late last night I emailed all 10 City Council members asking them for comment on the matter. As of noon  the only response I have gotten is from Jimmy Flannigan, who directed me to tweets criticizing his opponent, Mackenzie Kelly, who the Chronicle reported was on a family vacation recently. Flannigan’s only comment on the mayor is, “It’s a bad look for any elected — and the mayor has apologized.” Hogue, of the Kelly campaign, tells me that she was in Austin the whole time and was simply taking “time off.” 

Will Democrats ever learn? 
It’s fitting that this news came only hours after I’d been expressing frustration at some of Joe Biden’s brain-dead appointments. Neera Tanden, who he has named to lead the Office of Management and Budget, and Rahm Emanuel, rumored to be a frontrunner for the Dept of Transportation, are both cartoons of the entitled and ethically flexible political class. There are emails of Emanuel, whose professional life has been a meandering journey between Wall Street and government, bragging to a hedge fund manager about gutting health care benefits for retired government employees. Tanden, who led the Center for American Progress, used that organization to raise millions of dollars from middle eastern despots, defense contractors and other major businesses whose interests were in direct conflict with the stated values of the “progressive” group. What they all shared was a desire to crush the insurgent populist wing of the Democratic Party. 

And then of course there are the clueless decisions made by Joe Biden and the previous Dem nominee, Hillary Clinton. Hunter Biden likely didn’t do anything illegal by taking a high-paying position for which he was woefully unqualified at a Ukrainian energy company. It was still completely nuts that he did it and his dad, who was already planning a presidential run at the time, should have done everything possible to prevent him from doing it. There was nothing illegal about Hillary Clinton making gobs of money speaking to Wall Street banks as she prepared to run for president. But it was monumentally stupid and completely discredited her as somebody who is going to work for regular Americans. Years later, bitter partisans still blame her opponents and the media for highlighting this behavior, and refuse to concede that the behavior itself was a problem. 

Don’t you people get it? It’s this type of deception that completely undermines faith in our institutions. And when people lose faith in our institutions, the idea of electing someone who will destroy them entirely, like Donald Trump, doesn’t start to sound so bad. When the leaders who tell you to take Covid seriously go to fancy restaurants or fly to Mexico, why not vote for the guy who tells you there’s nothing to worry about and then holds massive rallies? If the liberal is making more money talking to a group of lobbyists for an hour than you make in five years, why not just vote for the mobster-in-chief who proudly admits to dodging taxes and ripping people off? It’s the Democrats’ hypocrisy that makes Trump, the most prolific liar in modern American political history, appear honest. Because at least there’s a certain consistency to him. 

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