The Indianapolis News Guild wants paid time off protected, especially during COVID-19
Since last March, journalists of the Indianapolis News Guild have dutifully covered a pandemic that has changed all of our lives. That’s why those same local journalists found it ironic when Gannett recently proposed a change to our paid time off plan that would eliminate dedicated sick days.
This proposal would take away more than a week of paid time off from some members. While Gannett looks to remove sick days, it has already furloughed workers and stopped 401(k) matches. Meanwhile, other news organizations are helping their journalists during the pandemic with increased benefits, such as additional days off and bonuses.
“IndyStar journalists have been working so hard to keep our communities informed during this public health crisis,” Indy News Guild President Natalia Contreras said. “But Gannett keeps coming after its workers.”
Member Tony Cook has seen what happens when sick days go away.
“I previously worked at another news outlet that cut sick days,” Cook said. “I had to work despite an extended illness. I don’t want that to happen here. Not during a pandemic.”
Cook said parenting during a pandemic is already a challenge — and having less PTO will only make it harder.
The Guild supports a paid time off policy that protects local journalists’ well-earned time off, including sick days.
The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, which represents 45 front-line journalists and workers in the IndyStar newsroom and production plant, is fighting to create a better and safer workplace. But in contract negotiations with IndyStar’s parent company, Gannett, management has refused to acknowledge our very real concerns about inequities in our newsroom; the potential erosion of local journalism expertise; and the risks and dangers associated with our work during a pandemic.
On Tuesday afternoon, IndyStar employees took a 10-minute break to collectively storm Twitter and explain why this contract proposal is so important. We will meet at the virtual table with Gannett again Wednesday. These are our demands:
Build a more diverse workforce. Gannett pledged newsrooms would represent our communities by 2025. We’re holding them accountable.
We want to close wage gaps between white employees and employees of color, and between male and female employees. We want Gannett to commit to considering members of underrepresented groups when hiring, and to work to retain them by creatinga mentorship program to help new employees thrive. We’ve also asked for a pay study, in part, to confirm the discrepancies we have discovered in our own analysis.
In response to our requests so far, the company argued pay studies don’t work. Any difference in wages is due to market forces, the company says, not decades of systemic racism or sexism.
Publicly, Gannett committed to creating a more diverse newsroom. It’s time to follow through on that promise. Representation matters. Diversity and inclusion should be a priority as IndyStar works to gain the trust of our Black, Latino and LGBTQ and all underrepresented communities we serve.
Commit to local journalists with expertise.
It can take years for a local journalist to develop the skills, sourcing and knowledge that our community demands of us. We are asking for a defined process for the times when management reassigns journalists from their positions. Sometimes they are even asked to take on jobs they have never been trained for. Our community expects better from us.
We are also fighting to keep our journalism in local hands. The company is creating a Midwest Digital Optimization Team (DOT). Gannett has not clearly defined what tasks the DOT would perform, but job descriptions for its employees overlap with some of the duties of our newsroom digital producers. This puts their jobs at risk. We saw a similar process play out when Gannett slashed numerous local design and editing jobs in the past.
Digital producers live, work and play in Central Indiana. They are Hoosiers like you. They keep track of the content you want to read. They write the personalized newsletters you love and find in your inbox every week. They give you a bird’s eye view of Indianapolis when needed as certified drone pilots. They send you weather, sports, traffic and other breaking news alerts and much more. And their jobs should remain local.
We deserve to feel safe, especially during a pandemic.
Many of our journalists continue to work on risky assignments despite the dangers associated with the ongoing pandemic. Some of us are considered at-risk. Earlier this year, many of us also covered events this year where pepper gas and riot gear were used.
All we’re asking for is to feel safe. We’re requesting basic employee rights to consider the safety of an assignment, and to receive a small amount of hazard pay when our committed journalists still dive into those conditions as we’ve routinely done in the past. It’s only fair.
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The future of local journalism in Indianapolis and beyond could be in danger if a vulture hedge fund gets its hands on Gannett, IndyStar’s parent company.
Digital First Media, otherwise known as MediaNews Group (MNG) owned by the Alden Global Capital hedge fund, has gained a reputation in recent years for buying newspapers and stripping them of their already scarce resources.
Earlier this year, MNG attempted a hostile takeover of Gannett, which failed. Since then, they’ve nominated six members to Gannett’s eight-member board of directors in another attempt to takeover the company.
Although DFM’s recent reduction from six nominees to three was good news for Gannett in the company’s efforts to resist a hostile takeover by DFM, it’s unlikely the three remaining nominees would help the cause of the Indianapolis NewsGuild, IndyStar, or local journalism in more than 100 cities across the country.
The three remaining nominees have strong ties to Alden and MNG. Heath Freeman is Alden’s president. Steven B. Rossi is MNG’s former CEO. The third nominee, Dana Goldsmith Needleman, serves on the board of directors for Fred’s discount stores — a company that’s seen its share price fall 80 percent since Alden’s handpicked directors joined Fred’s board in 2017.
As the Communications Workers of America wrote in a letter to Gannett shareholders, Freeman, Rossi and Needleman “are hopelessly conflicted by close professional ties to MNG … If elected to the board, these nominees could not credibly negotiate a transaction with Alden, given that they would stand to benefit personally from a deal that unfairly favors MNG/Alden.”
What happens to newspapers acquired by Alden/MNG/DFM? Workers are greeted by a sharper staff-cutting knife than we’ve encountered in Indianapolis.
From 2016 to 2018, Digital First Media laid off workers at twice the rate of other national newspaper chains. The New York Times has labeled Alden “the destroyer of newspapers.”
The publisher at The Denver Post resigned abruptly, saying he was “ready for something a little less stressful” after working under DFM.
Wait, there’s more. In April, we learned the Department of Labor is investigating accusations that Alden took almost $250 million in employee pension assets and channeled the funds into its own accounts.
And now, Alden Global Capital is facing heat after the collapse of Payless Shoes. In court filings, a committee called the Payless catastrophe an “18-month free fall … into one of the largest liquidations in retail history,” according to industry press.
If you care about local news and the value it brings to your community and our democracy, we urge you voice your opposition of a board with MNG-backed members.
Here’s what you can do:
If you are a Gannett shareholder, vote FOR ALL on the WHITE proxy card, which includes Stephen Coll, the dean of the Columbia University graduate school of journalism and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Forget about the blue proxy card, where you’ll find the folks who dismantled Payless shoe stores and Fred’s.
Share this post with the hashtag #SaveLocalNews on Twitter or Facebook.
Editor’s note: In July, IndyStar workers delivered a letter to management asking them to come to the table with a fair deal on our health care. After two session of negotiations, we are still waiting for Gannett to deliver a commitment to mitigate the effects of changing our health care. (You can read more about this here and here.)
On Monday, the Guild’s bargaining committee met with Gannett lawyers for another round of negotiations, two weeks after the last round and more than seven months since we’ve had a contract.
And once again we’ve walked away without even the hint of a fair offer on health care or wages.
The issue? Gannett wants to move Guild members off of our health care plan onto theirs. A move that we have calculated could cost members anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,700 per year.
We’ve maintained all along that any discussion about the possibility of moving to a Gannett plan must include mitigation of these effects. We even provided them with cost data so they could do their own analysis.
Yet, when we met on Monday, Gannett’s lawyer once again proposed that we move onto their health care plan without committing to any mitigation payments in return.
Why should Guild members agree to what amounts to a pay cut? Why, when at the same time, Gannett withholds merit raises in order to force us into a contract?
Last month, we delivered a letter to our newsroom management asking that Gannett come to the table and treat its award-winning, dedicated journalists and workers with basic respect.
It is clear to us now that our request has been ignored.
We continue to ask our community to call on Gannett to give us a fair contract. Send your messages directly to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them to @Gannett or @RonnieRamos.