Why members of the Utica News Guild took this step.
Steve Howe is a reporter at the Observer-Dispatch and Treasurer of the Utica News Guild. This article is republished with permission from their strike paper, the Gannett Union Press.
The staff of the Utica Observer-Dispatch and Herkimer Times-Telegram joined other union newspapers around the country Friday in a one-day walkout to protest Gannett’s recent layoffs, furloughs and other austerity measures.
The one-day strike comes on the heels of Gannett’s October announcement of cost-cutting measures to suspend its 401K match and five days of furloughs for non-union employees. The company laid off 400 employees and cut another 400 open positions in August, approximately 3% of its nationwide staff.
In February, Gannett spent $100 million in stock buybacks for shareholders.
While reporters will not produce stories for Gannett properties Friday, Observer-Dispatch and Times-Telegrams will report on high school sports and breaking news through the Gannett Union Press, an online strike paper.
“Today, we are not going to provide any work to the O-D,” said Utica News Guild president H. Rose Schneider. “If anything, we’ll put our own on the strike site … Basically to tell them enough is enough with these measures to hurt journalists and also that they need to step it up at the bargaining table and work together with us on a contract to actually help our reporters.”
The news guild and Gannett have made five tentative agreements through collective bargaining since the beginning of the year, but Schneider said it’s not enough to reach a new contract by year’s end.
“We’re not going to back down on certain proposals that are meant to help our reporters,” they said.
Both newspapers have been without an executive editor since Sheila Rayam departed for the top job at the Buffalo News in August. The Mid-York Weekly, which covered Madison County, was shuttered in September and its editor, Mike Jaquays, was laid off.
Members of the Utica News Guild gathered outside the Observer-Dispatch office at 70 Genesee St. on Friday morning and held a press conference with local media to describe the reasons for the walkout.
Nationwide, more than 200 Gannett journalists participated in the one-day strike, including staff in New York, New Jersey, Arizona and Southern California. Other papers in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin took part in a coordinated lunch-time walkout or visible pickets.