February 11, 2019

Hartford Courant journalists are attempting to unionize

HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
The Hartford Courant's headquarters at 285 Broad St.
HBJ Photo | Natalie Missakian
Andrew Julien became the Hartford Courant's publisher and editor-in-chief in 2016 after Tribune Publishing abruptly replaced all publishers at its newspapers that year.

Suffering from a declining workforce in recent years, Hartford Courant employees say they took steps on Monday to form a union.

Journalists of the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper on Monday said they filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board and requested voluntary recognition from the Courant's parent company, Tribune Publishing.

More than 75 percent of the Courant's eligible workers are backing efforts to form a union known as the Hartford Courant Guild, which would be part of national newspaper union The NewsGuild-CWA. The Courant's faction, covering about 60 reporters, editors and photographers, would become a unit under the union's local chapter, The Providence Newspaper Guild.

Kathleen McWilliams, a reporter for the Courant, said she has witnessed the newsroom "decimated and demoralized by buyouts and layoffs" during her three years at the 254-year-old paper. Job cuts at the publication have gone on much longer than that.

"I've watched our workloads increase without commensurate compensation and I've grown deeply concerned as my colleagues and I struggle to maintain the quality of our publication while corporate managers take home $5 million bonuses," McWilliams said Monday.

McWilliams said organizers informed local management about their united efforts to unionize on Monday morning. Ideally, the group hopes corporate officials at Tribune will quickly recognize their proposed guild so labor negotiations can begin, she said.

In a statement Monday evening, Andrew Julien, the Courant's publisher and editor-in-chief, said he has received the staff's letter asking to recognize the guild and is looking into the request.

In November, McWilliams said 12 veteran Courant newsroom staffers took a voluntary buyout offered to Tribune employees as the media company worked to save on overhead costs.

She said the newsroom began plotting a path toward unionization in October and formed a committee to outline their next course of action. Many workers, McWilliams said, started to realize the urgency of the movement amid November's buyout period, when a few members of the committee actually accepted buyout offers from Chicago based-Tribune.

Tribune, which owns the Courant and eight other newspapers, is still searching for a buyer after it was nearly acquired by McClatchy in December.

Meantime, average print circulation at the Hartford paper has dropped 32 percent over the last three years to 60,265 in the third quarter of 2018, according to Alliance for Audited Media figures.

In 2014, Hartford Business Journal reported the Courant's newsroom workforce peaked in 1994 at 400 employees and fell to 135 employees in 2009.

McWilliams said the newsroom currently has 62 employees who are not in management posts. Since 2003, the Courant's photo department has shrunk from about 20 photographers and 10 support staff to just three employees today, she said.

The editorial department has 10 unfilled positions, she says, adding there is no indication those jobs will be filled.

"Declining revenues and decisions by corporate managers who have little regard for or knowledge of our communities and the work we do to serve them — only translate to deepening cuts to our resources and standards …" said Dom Amore, a Courant reporter for the last three-plus decades.

"We've practiced patience and waited for change," employees said in a statement. "Now, we aim to do our part to guarantee that the high-quality, responsible and independent journalism the Courant has always stood for survives and remains a healthy, vibrant force in our community."

The union movement at the Courant comes as publications across the nation are working to offset print circulation declines through layoffs and buyouts.

In recent months, staffers at Tribune papers including The Chicago Tribune, the Daily Hampshire Gazette and at other papers have achieved unionization through the NewsGuild.

This story has been updated

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