Chicago Tribune Staffers Move to Unionize

(Adam Jones, Ph.D. / Wikimedia Commons)(Adam Jones, Ph.D. / Wikimedia Commons)

Chicago Tribune journalists announced Wednesday morning they intend to form a union: the Chicago Tribune Guild.

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“The very notion of a free press is under attack right now, from some of the statements the president makes to the ways newsrooms across the country are shrinking to the rise of fake news,” said Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens, a member of the union organizing committee. “This just feels like an essential time to do everything we can to strengthen the Chicago Tribune and make sure we are getting the resources and investments (we need) from our owners.”

The Chicago Tribune is owned by the media company Tronc – formerly Tribune Publishing – which also owns The New York Daily News, The Hartford Courant, The Orlando Sentinel, South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel and The Baltimore Sun, among other newspapers. In early February, the company announced it was selling The Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune to billionaire doctor Patrick Soon-Shiong.

The Chicago Tribune Guild’s organizing committee consists of 46 staffers, including reporters, photographers, columnists, investigative reporters and designers. They have chosen to organize with the Chicago News Guild, a local chapter of the NewsGuild-Communications of America, because of the union’s knowledge of the industry and experience organizing newsrooms, according to the Chicago Tribune Guild’s website.

Stevens, who has worked at the Chicago Tribune for 20 years, was one of the committee members to inform Chicago Tribune Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Bruce Dold and Managing Editor Peter Kendall about the decision to unionize. Stevens said the meeting went fine.

Dold addressed the effort in a letter to Chicago Tribune employees. “Everyone in Chicago Tribune management has the utmost respect for the decisions you make and for your rights on this issue. We believe in transparency, open dialogue and fairness,” Dold wrote. “That’s who we are as journalists and what guides the Tribune.”

Charlie Johnson, a Chicago Tribune home page editor and union organizing committee member, said the decision to unionize was driven by “mistreatment” by corporate ownership. “We feel that the Chicago Tribune and its community publications have been mistreated by a series of corporate owners, Tronc being the most recent and most public. We’re dictated to by people who don’t have a civic mission of journalism in mind,” he said. “The newsroom is in a position of jeopardy, and we’re standing up to make sure we’re paid fairly and to make sure we have a voice in how this place operates.”

By forming a union, staffers hope to address employees’ concerns about pay, job security and health care, among other topics. “We’ve seen a lot of experienced people leaving and younger people leaving for better jobs because they can’t make a future here,” said Chicago Tribune reporter Mary Wisniewski, an organizing committee member.

“We’re proud of the Chicago Tribune and the community we represent, we do great investigations that help the Chicago area at-large, and we want to keep doing that, but it’s become increasingly difficult without the investments we need in the newsroom,” she added.

In his letter to staff, Dold said the newsroom is in the midst of a reorganization “designed to put us in the best position to fulfill our mission and thrive in an intensely competitive media environment. We are committed to investing in our newsroom,” he wrote. “We are committed to serving this community and to remaining the largest and most impactful news organization in the Midwest.”

While the union would be a first in the paper’s 170-year history, organizers say times have changed. In a letter on the Chicago Tribune Guild’s website, longtime columnists Mary Schmich and Eric Zorn explain why they’re joining the effort to unionize. “Today’s Tribune employees can’t rely on what our generation took for granted: fair wages, regular raises, the chance to learn, to grow, to advance,” Schmich wrote. “They—well, all of us now—are also working without the confidence that the newspaper’s corporate owners believe in great journalism, are willing to invest in it or share the newsroom’s sense of civic responsibility.”

Zorn writes that his decision to support the unionization effort is about “the future of this institution, which is so integral to the future of journalism in Chicago. It’s about giving the men and women in our newsroom more and better leverage in dealing with ownership during rocky times in our industry.” 

The Chicago Tribune Guild would include the Tribune, RedEye, Hoy, Daily Southtown, Aurora Beacon-News, Naperville Sun and Elgin Courier-News. Organizers hope to unionize 280 nonmanagement employees. Other Tronc-owned publications, like Chicago magazine, are welcome to join the effort, says Johnson.

“We feel that having a strong newspaper is important to the city and to our democracy, and the Guild is about making the newsroom strong and stronger together,” said Wisniewski.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz | [email protected] | (773) 509-5452

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