Unionized journalists at Miami Herald, sister papers to walk out

Unionized staff at three newspapers in Florida—the Miami Herald, its Spanish-language sibling El Nuevo Herald, and the smaller Bradenton Herald—are refusing to work for one day Friday amid ongoing contract negotiations with their owner, McClatchy.

The union has been engaged in more than two years of bargaining over demands including the introduction of paid parental leave and pay equality between Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald journalists.

Joey Flechas, a city hall reporter at the Miami Herald and a union cochair, cited a fifteen-year veteran of El Nuevo Herald still earning $49,000 a year—while a ten-year employee at the English-language paper is earning $80,000. “It’s the same work,” Flechas said. “And it’s especially offensive in Miami, where our culture is deeply tied to the Hispanic diaspora and Spanish-speaking population.”

In October 2019, prompted by rounds of layoffs and buyouts, a majority of the combined newsroom of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald (which totals about 100 people) voted to unionize with the NewsGuild–Communications Workers of America. Employees of the Bradenton Herald unionized in 2020 and are in the midst of negotiating their own, separate contract.

“They unionized to save their own publications and their jobs,” said Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA. “The thing that always surprises me with these companies like McClatchy is how aggressive they are at fighting journalists.”

A McClatchy spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The company, based in Sacramento, operates thirty daily newspapers, seventeen of which are unionized. It has owned the Miami Herald since 2006, when it purchased Knight Ridder, the paper’s previous owner. 

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Herald employees described today’s action as a “walkout,” but they don’t mean it literally. There’s nowhere to walk out of. In the summer of 2020, McClatchy gave up the lease at its physical newsroom in a Miami suburb, citing the covid-19 pandemic and cost-cutting measures. Just before contract negotiations began, in February 2020, McClatchy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection; Chatham Asset Management, a New York hedge fund, bought it for $312 million.

During the virtual walkout today, the union bargaining committee and its supporters are gathering at a hotel conference room downtown. There they will talk to McClatchy (and their lawyers from Jones Day, a firm famed for fighting unions). 

Other union demands include experience-based salary floors, protections against outsourcing, and higher gas mileage reimbursement. Their current rate is 33 cents per mile, though the IRS standard mileage rate is now 58.5 cents per mile. 

Many union demands have been met by McClatchy since bargaining began—they are just not extended to union employees. Last year, McClatchy implemented a company-wide parental leave policy, its first ever, but denied it to a new mother in the Miami Herald newsroom.

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Caleb Pershan is a CJR fellow.