Enough is enough: IndyStar journalists take contract fight to circle Monument Circle

A contingent of more than 30 red-T-shirt-clad IndyStar journalists and a dozen allies, including former IndyStar employees, marched to Monument Circle on Thursday in a coordinated lunch break to demand a fair contract on Thursday.

It has been exactly two years, to the day, of the Indianapolis News Guild’s collective bargaining agreement expiring. Representatives for newspaper owner Gannett/USA TODAY have at times shown up utterly unprepared to bargain and have belittled and berated the News Guild’s proposals related to diversity and workplace safety.

The journalists yelled solidarity chants including “Workers united will never be divided”, “Chop from the top, not from the newsroom” and “Who’s newsroom? Our newsroom” as they marched around the monument. 

The escalation in the union’s fight for a contract comes as its leadership has been locked in contract negotiations with lawyers representing Gannett, IndyStar’s parent company, and comes one day after Gannett executives announced more than 400 employees were laid off in the recent round of cuts. An additional 400 open positions were cut, including some at IndyStar.

The union is asking for a contract that rectifies pay inequity in the newsroom, brings decade-old pay scales up to date, and provides cost-of-living adjustments at a time of record high inflation. According to union members, the majority have never experienced a cost-of-living raise in their entire time working at IndyStar. 

Protecting local journalism that reflects the diversity of the city the guild reports on is also vital, and matches the pledges we’ve heard from company leaders on issues of equity and diversity. It’s time for a fair contract. 

The union is demanding that the contract ensures accountability from managers to consider journalists from diverse backgrounds when hiring and to conduct a pay study to ensure pay is equitable. 

“This contract foolishness has gone on so long that it’s forcing us to ramp up our visibility. There will be more to come,” said Robert Scheer, a photojournalist who has been at IndyStar for 24 years. “It’s funny that when a stock price goes up, employees generally don’t benefit but when it goes down we’re always the ones who suffer – not top leadership.”

Mike Reed, CEO of IndyStar’s parent company, Gannett, raked in $7.74 million in salary, bonuses, and stock award, according to Gannett’s annual proxy filing. Meanwhile, the minimum salary in The Indianapolis News Guild’s current pay scale is $32,000, which is tens of thousands of dollars lower than the median income in Indiana

Many IndyStar journalists took a 10% pay cut during the 2009 recession and have never recovered. Union member and long-time IndyStar Olympics sports insider David Woods said that for him to have the same purchasing power he had in 2006, he would need a $28,000 to $30,000 pay raise. He has worked at IndyStar since 1994.

“While we’re fighting to improve our own work lives, this is bigger than us. We believe our contract proposals would help make the Indianapolis Star the best newspaper it can be, which is what our city deserves,” said Jenna Watson, president of the local and photojournalist at IndyStar since 2016.  “We must keep strengthening the Star this way, from the bottom up, if we want to save local journalism.”

Layoffs and high turnover were another big concern of the IndyStar newsroom, which has seen many journalists leave in recent years due, in part, to low pay.

“We can’t let pay scales and benefits languish indefinitely if we want robust local journalism in Indianapolis. We’ve seen too many talented colleagues leave for other outlets or other careers,” said investigative reporter Tony Cook. “We do this work to inform our neighbors and to bring positive change in our city. Gannett needs to commit the resources needed to ensure great journalism can thrive in Indianapolis.” 

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