Dozens of employees at the Chicago Tribune have announced their intent to unionize the newsroom, which would be a first in the paper’s 170-year history.
An organizing committee — 46 Tribune employees are listed — made the announcement online Wednesday under the banner of the Chicago Tribune Guild, citing a lack of raises, a need for job security, more diversity in the newsroom and lower health insurance premiums as reasons for the unionization push.
“Our primary goal in forming a union is to give us, the Tribune’s journalists, a voice in setting the course for the publications we hold dear,” the organizing committee wrote in a statement on its website. “This includes the Aurora Beacon-News, Daily Southtown, Naperville Sun, Elgin Courier-News, RedEye and Hoy.”
The group is asking Tribune staffers to submit signature cards in support of representation by the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, which also represents unionized employees at publications such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.
“For too long, the corporate leadership of the Chicago Tribune and its community publications has devalued and weakened the effectiveness of its newsrooms,” the group states on its website.
Heidi Stevens, a Tribune columnist and member of the Tribune Guild’s organizing committee, said the mood in the newsroom Wednesday was “upbeat and optimistic.”
“People feel like this is the time to do everything in our power to protect this newsroom, to protect a free press,” Stevens said. “There are a lot of forces working against us. We just want to do everything in our power to shore up the Chicago Tribune to make it as viable as possible for decades and decades to come.”
While Stevens and other notable Tribune columnists, Mary Schmich, Clarence Page, Eric Zorn and Rex Huppke are on the guild’s organizing committee, John Kass — the paper’s marquee columnist who took over Mike Royko’s column — is not. Kass, whose columns often detail his right-wing views, did not respond to an interview request Wednesday.
In a letter to the staff Wednesday, Tribune publisher and editor-in-chief Bruce Dold said, “Everyone in Chicago Tribune management has the utmost respect for the decisions you make and for your rights on this issue.”
“Over the last several weeks we’ve held a number of informal conversations about our mission, our direction, and how we can best grow our readership,” Dold wrote. “We will continue those conversations in the weeks ahead.”
The Tribune has undergone two rounds of layoffs in recent months in which dozens of newsroom positions were eliminated. The newspaper is set to move its headquarters from Tribune Tower to Prudential Plaza.
The Tribune employees’ efforts to organize are being aided by the Chicago News Guild, the union that represents employees from the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader.
“We’re thrilled that the Tribune editorial employees have chosen to organize,” said David Roeder, a former Sun-Times business columnist who now serves as an organizer and consultant for the Chicago News Guild.
Roeder said that cards in favor of unionizing are coming in “at a very fast pace,” though he declined to give a number.
The Tribune Guild’s efforts come as several other Chicago media outlets have chosen to unionize in recent years.
Staff members at WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate, and the Better Government Association have both joined the SAG-AFTRA union since 2013. The Chicago Reader joined the Chicago News Guild in 2015.
Editorial employees at the Los Angeles Times voted to unionize earlier this year, and Tronc announced a deal to sell the paper shortly thereafter.
If the Times sale goes through and the Chicago Tribune Guild succeeds in organizing, it would leave the Tribune and the Baltimore Sun as the only Tronc properties in major cities to have newsroom unions. The Sun staff unionized in 1934, long before Tronc — formerly known as Tribune Publishing — bought the paper.
Scott Dance, a Baltimore Sun reporter who serves as chair of the Sun unit of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, welcomed the idea of another unionized paper in Tronc.
“The idea of us being able to team up with colleagues in Chicago and together really stand up to Tronc will be really valuable,” Dance said. “The more hell we can raise together, the better off I think all the workers will be.”
Megan Crepeau, another member of the Tribune organizing committee, who covers Cook County criminal courts, said Tronc’s decision to sell the Los Angeles Times after the paper unionized “was on our radar,” though the guild is not trying to spur a sale of the Tribune.
“The idea here is that no matter who owns us, we would be stronger — the newsroom will be stronger — if we have a union,” she said.