News Guild members to stage 1-day strike June 5 at Gannett papers
The News Guild, which called a 1-day strike at Gannett chain papers for June 5, also demands a shareholder no-confidence vote in CEO Mike Reed for financial mismanagement. Federal data showed Reed’s pay for 2021, latest year available, and a year when Gannett lost more than $100 million. | News Guild/Twitter

WASHINGTON – News Guild members at more than 20 Gannett-owned papers from coast to coast staged one-day strikes on June 5, around key demands that the big chain bargain in good faith for new contracts and that it put money back into restoring drastically cut local coverage.

Before that, the Guild filed a formal demand with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, asking stockholders in the publicly owned company, meeting virtually on June 5, to vote no confidence in Gannett CEO Mike Reed. News Guild President Jon Schleuss said Reed has, in plain English, forsaken local news.

Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, has—like the others—pillaged its staff, sold off buildings, forced workers into doing jobs they aren’t trained for and sacrificed coverage, leaving “news deserts.” Like other publishers, Reed blames the Internet for tanking ad revenues.

One example of the results is at the Gannett-owned South Bend (Ind.) News-Tribune. Several years ago, it had 28 staffers, including photographers, and covered not just state and regional news, but local government meetings and local sports ranging from Notre Dame football to high school sports all the way into southern Michigan.

Now it has 10 staffers, no staff photographers and no local sports coverage. And the remaining workers haven’t had a raise in ten years, as negotiations have been sporadic at best. Local government coverage is greatly reduced and most of the paper is wire copy from the state capital of Indianapolis or from Associated Press and other news services.

The one-day strike will occur at 20-plus Gannett publications and extend to a second day at several, the News Guild said. Walkouts will occur at, among others, South Bend, the Arizona Republic of Phoenix, the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, the Jacksonville, Fla., Times Union, several papers in Northern California and the Bergen (N.J.) Record.

But the News Guild, which represents more than 1,000 workers at 50 Gannett locations, is also taking its no-confidence vote plan directly to the shareholders, using the more than 1,590 shares of Gannett CWA, its parent union, owns, Schleuss said. Workers, including Guild members, own additional shares.

In his letter to the SEC, explaining the no-confidence resolution, Schleuss cited the decimation of newsrooms, the sell-offs of buildings, the drastic decline—ranging from 69% to 95% in a surveyed sample of papers—in local coverage, and “grossly mismanaged finances.”

The result, he said, has been a disaster for workers, readers and shareholders. Other chains, facing the same advertising headwinds, saw share prices and stockholder value rise. Gannett’s has fallen by 70% in the last four years. It also lost $134.96 million in its fiscal 2021, though it has since turned around, thanks to cutbacks, layoffs and closures.

Despite the red ink, the AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch disclosed Reed pocketed $7.74 million in that same fiscal 2021: A $900,000 paycheck, $6.07 million in stock awards and $767,000 in “non-equity executive compensation.”

“Reed has dangerously mortgaged the future of our company by assuming debt with high interest rates and quarterly payments extracted from stakeholders,” Schleuss told the SEC, asking it to order Virginia-based Gannett to hold the no-confidence vote. “He has reduced local content by relying on wire service and regional stories, cut newsroom staff, and maintained a compensation policy forcing many of our journalists to seek work elsewhere.”

Staff cuts also put the company at risk because there are few or no newsroom “eyes” to catch potentially libelous errors before they make it into print.

“As a result, our communities are not being served and our employees are demoralized. Therefore, we believe it is time for a change in leadership: A clear vote of no-confidence in a guy who has weakened our company, forsaken the towns and cities where we have outlets, and impoverished shareholders. Mike Reed ‘is failing in plain sight’ as columnist Mike McCrory stated in the Boston Globe on April 13.”

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Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.