Arizona Republic reporters vote overwhelmingly for unionization

The editorial staff of the Arizona Republic voted to unionize on Thursday.

The vote for representation by the NewsGuild-CWA (Communications Workers of America) comes as RepublicGannett’s parent company is completing a merger with GateHouse Media.

About 64 employees voted to unionize while 30 voted no, according to a preliminary tally. A total of 101 employees were eligible to vote.

About 30 employees attended as a representative of the National Labor Relations Board counted the votes by hand, sources said. Editor-in-chief Greg Burton, who sent several department-wide emails opposing the union, was also present.

Sighs of relief filled the room as the counter announced the vote.

Investigative reporter Rebekah Sanders, one of the union’s most vocal supporters in the newsroom, shouted “we did it!” A video posted to Twitter showed several supporters hugging and applauding the news.

The historic vote means that the employees of the Republic will form a collective bargaining unit to negotiate a contract with management, where working conditions such as wages, benefits and dismissal protections could be on the table.

Gannet’s acquisition by GateHouse Media will create one of the largest media organizations in the world. Business leaders have everything to gain from the merger. But reporters face uncertainty as the CEO of GateHouse has promised to make cuts of $300 million.

The election follows a tense month at the Phoenix-based newspaper, where the organization’s parent company, Gannett, mounted an aggressive union busting campaign.

Republic workers began to organize in January, following a series of layoffs from companies that demanded the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Benson. The campaign intensified in August after Gannett announced the proposed merger with GateHouse.

The vote took place in the editorial board room of the Republicat the downtown office from noon to 2 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The election caps a tense month at the Phoenix-based newspaper.

After the employees went public with their union campaign, Gannett launched an aggressive anti-union campaign that, at its most dramatic moments, made national headlines.

As summer turned to fall and RepublicBooths in the breaking news bureau became festooned with yellow duct tape and other Halloween decorations, the downtown newsroom also became a playground for dueling messages between supporters of the management union.

Employees entering the office were greeted this week with blue posters of Republic bosses trying to persuade them not to join a union. Management propaganda competed with white placards emblazoned with a pro-union logo designed by Benson, the fired cartoonist.

Earlier this month, employees received an unsigned memo on their desks claiming to offer “SOME COMMON SENSE WORDS ON COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.”

The note stated that Gannett and the Republic would bargain in good faith if employees voted for union representation, but warned staff members that they could lose some benefits in the negotiations.

Union supporters countered with their own flyer featuring testimonials from journalists in unionized newsrooms who did not lose their benefits as a result of collective bargaining. In addition to the poster war, union supporters maintained an ambitious digital campaign in support of the courts, which included videos featuring staff members, tweets praising the work of pro and anti-union colleagues and a website to ‘information.

Last month, management invited Detroit Free Press editor Peter Bhatia to visit the newsroom for two days to hold meetings with people on the fence. Republic employees to dissuade them from voting for unionization. Bhatia’s newspaper, which is also owned by Gannett, has been syndicated for decades.

Unlike the mandatory newsroom-wide meetings that Republic Held in early September, Bhatia’s meetings targeted small groups of employees perceived as reluctant to unionize.

While the atmosphere in the newsroom remains tense, RepublicThe union-busting message has faded from management’s tactics in early September.

Republic editor Greg Burton then made headlines after sending out a department-wide email likening the organizers to murderers and child molesters. Burton accused union supporters of exercising “surveillance” over their colleagues.

Union supporters claimed the alleged surveillance referred to organizers monitoring fellow workers’ support for their efforts, which is the norm in union organizing.

A few days later, a Gannett human resources employee confiscated the work phone of veteran journalist Sanders, one of Republicas part of an investigation into the alleged surveillance, a charge Sanders has vehemently denied. Sanders got his phone back the next day.

Burton’s email and the confiscation of Sanders’ phone captured national attention and galvanized public support for the union campaign.