After years without raises, of bleeding newsroom staff (60% since 2018), and of meeting at the table to work out a contract that would set a minimum salary and regular raises to no avail, the Austin American-Statesman newsroom’s unionized staff went on strike Monday.
It was a one-day walkout to demand a wage floor of $60,000 and a defined seniority structure with built-in raises. At the same time, reporters at other papers owned by the media behemoth Gannett walked out across the country.
“If they continue to not take us seriously, we’ll do what we need to do as far as a longer strike,” said Nicole Villalpando, a leader of the Austin News Guild.
Villalpando said they haven’t gotten any blowback from Gannett yet – “I know what their corporate line is and that’s to pretend this isn’t happening,” she said – but guild members will meet with Gannett’s lawyer Steve Moss again Thursday for contract negotiations. They’re hoping to see movement toward increasing wages then. Villalpando says of the eight non-unionized members of the 44-person newsroom (all management), Editor-in-Chief Manny Garcia has expressed support for getting a contract hammered out, because it’s exhausting to negotiate each person’s raise individually, compared to the union’s proposed seniority and raise structure.
So far, in the negotiations that have been dragging on since 2021, Moss has hinted that Gannett might be flexible on pay but that the union and corporation will first have to come to an agreement on non-economic matters. That’s held them up because Gannett has refused to agree to protections against things like sexual harassment and harassment over natural hairstyles.
Statesman reporters know they might need to strike longer than a day for Gannett to budge, but they also know they won’t be in it alone. A GoFundMe to pay striking staff for any wages lost during the strike has so far raised $15,000. The Fort Worth News Guild raised $50,602 through a similar GoFundMe to fund a 24-day strike before they were able to secure a $52,000 wage floor. The Statesman’s current lowest paid reporters make close to $40,000.
Villalpando said if they need to strike longer, they’d ideally coordinate with Gannett-owned newsrooms across the country. That way, the Statesman wouldn’t be able to fill pages with non-local news from other Gannett papers, and far away papers couldn’t fill pages with Austin news, either.
“They might for one day,” Villalpando said. “Could they do it for a week? Could they do it for a month? I definitely don’t think so.”
* Editor’s note Monday, June 5, 2:50pm: This story has been updated to correct the name of Statesman editor Manny Garcia. The Chronicle regrets the error.
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