The Real News’ Union Signs First Contract

September 11, 2019

by TRNN Union Reps

The Real News Network has a contract now, y’all!

We’ve been working on this for 18 months. It’s taken many hours of our lives. We laughed, we cried, etc. We couldn’t be more proud.

This is a very exciting time to work in journalism, but it’s also a scary one. Thousands of workers have been laid off from media companies like Buzzfeed, Vice Media, and Gannett since the beginning of 2019. 

Just a few days ago, the Democratic Party-aligned Center for American Progress shut down their independent news site ThinkProgress and laid off the entire unionized newsroom. Then on Monday, Center for American Progress’ Action Fund announced the relaunch of the news site.

“Moving forward, we’ll be transitioning ThinkProgress back to its roots as a site that offers analysis on policy, politics, and the news,” he wrote. “We’re still figuring this out—so bear with us, but you will be able to count on the new ThinkProgress to offer a proudly progressive perspective on the most important policy and political debates in the country.” In other words, they still wanted to have a news outlet—just not a unionized one.

But the ThinkProgress union objected. They released a statement saying they were looking into “legal options with our representatives at the Writers Guild of America East.” 

So ThinkProgress agreed to archive the site instead. “It is clear that many former ThinkProgress staff feel that the site should simply be archived with no further posting, and we will honor that request,” the Center for American Progress said in a statement. Staff still got laid off, but they were able to secure 12 weeks severance pay and health insurance through the end of 2019. 

Closer to home, on Monday, the Baltimore Sun’s staff union launched a week-long byline strike. The protest came in response to an austere proposal from their parent company Tribune Publishing which the union says included directives to outsource more work and eliminate several jobs, eliminate seniority, remove advertising staff from the union, eliminate contractual salary steps for some positions—among other things. 

“The Baltimore Sun has been our watchdog, ready to call out injustice and corruption in the city we love,” Guild representatives said in a statement. “So we are giving management a taste of what the newspaper might be like if all of the reporters and photographers who deliver the news were no longer around.” (It’s not just local news media either: Workers at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra just overwhelmingly voted to reject a contract offer—one they said would have meant taking steep pay cuts—and continue a work stoppage.)

Fighting for these contracts isn’t easy. Last week, workers at the Arizona Republic went public with their intent to start a union. Republic journalist Rebekah L. Sanders described being “interrogated” and having her phone taken by an HR rep.

“When a company is willing to interrogate employees for exercising their legal rights, when a company is willing to take away the tools employees use to do their jobs, when a company is willing to do anything to intimidate its own employees, it means executives are scared of the power their employees possess and the better working conditions the company will have to provide when colleagues unite and work together,” she said. 

The Los Angeles Times’ workers and management have been locked in a long, high-profile struggle. They’re on their 15th month at the bargaining table. Workers say a key priority for them is equity: Last spring, the guild catalogued the disparity in pay that women and people of color face in their newsroom.

Two years ago, Vox Media workers unionized. At the time, their reporter German Lopez came out staunchly against the campaign. “Vox Media is a generous company (unusually so for digital media), and some people want to take advantage of that,” he tweeted.

In another (since-deleted) tweet, he said, “I know writers who want a union as protection for laziness, which will make a lot of things worse (including for writers).”

But he’s since changed his mind. “I had done a complete 180 on unions,” he wrote last month. “I was wrong. We need more unions everywhere.” His research showed him that unions play an important role in creating equity and balance in the workplace and in society at large.

We agree. We didn’t form a union because we hate our work. We love our work, and feel lucky to get to produce independent journalism. 

A huge thank you to our supporters and our viewers. Bargaining this contract hasn’t been easy, but as a newsroom, we’re better for having done it.