Omaha World-Herald newsroom employees formally kick off unionizing drive, seek voice to preserve high-quality journalism

September 13, 2018

Omaha World-Herald newsroom employees formally kick off unionizing drive, seek voice to preserve high-quality journalism

OMAHA, Nebraska — The newsroom staff of The Omaha World-Herald on Thursday took a major step to form a union that ensures a formal voice in the workplace to preserve outstanding journalism amid financial pressures that threaten Nebraska’s largest and most vibrant newspaper.

“Everyone understands that this is a difficult and potentially perilous period for American newspapers and The World-Herald, too,” said Matthew Hansen, a columnist and 12-year World-Herald veteran who supports the newsroom staff’s effort to be represented by The NewsGuild-CWA. “Now more than ever, The World-Herald’s employees need a seat at the table and a say in what our future looks like.”

Seventy-five percent of the 95 journalists who work as reporters, copy editors, designers and photographers in The World-Herald’s newsroom signed cards stating their desire to be represented by The NewsGuild-CWA.

The cards, filed Thursday with the Kansas City-area regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, will trigger an NLRB-monitored election by World-Herald staff members in the next 20 to 40 days unless the newspaper’s owner, Omaha-based BH Media Group — part of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway company — voluntarily recognizes The NewsGuild as the workers’ union.

The World-Herald, which BH Media’s website says has more than 100,000 print subscribers and 1 million unique visitors per month at Omaha.com, would become the first newspaper in Nebraska to have a unionized newsroom.

Many newsroom employees have gone five to 10 years with no raises and watched as more than a dozen newsroom employees were laid off or took early retirement in February and August as part of downsizing by BH Media. The company paid Lee Enterprises, based in Davenport, Iowa, to manage The World-Herald and BH Media’s other newspapers beginning in July.

“We are uniting because we want to preserve and promote Nebraska’s leading journalistic outlet — and protect the journalists who make it so,” staff members backing the unionizing drive say in a mission statement. “We, as much as anyone, understand that this is a difficult time for our industry. With this union, we’ll have power to join management in searching for solutions that keep The World-Herald vibrant and vigilant for our readers for decades to come.”

Todd Cooper, a World-Herald reporter for 21 years and a native Nebraskan, said he loves the way the newspaper “reflects and reveals this state, its character and its characters. It’s imperative that the people who produce this paper have a say in its direction.”

Cooper said he calls on Buffett “to join us in ensuring that The World-Herald remains vigorous and doesn’t become a shell of its former self, as too many other newspapers have become. Just last month, Lee Enterprises showed the door to more than 200 years of journalistic experience.”

Erin Grace, a columnist with 20 years of experience at the paper, said The World-Herald always has been locally owned, locally managed and locally produced “by people who know Omaha inside and out. The decision to outsource the newspaper’s management threatens our newspaper’s ‘Omaha DNA.’ So it is out of deep affection for Omaha, and a fervent belief in the role a strong local newspaper plays, that we are uniting behind this singular cause: Safeguarding the Omaha World-Herald.”

Henry Cordes, an investigative reporter who has worked at The World-Herald for 37 years, said: “The recent loss of local management of The World-Herald makes it imperative we preserve a voice for people in Omaha on the newspaper’s future. Through the Guild, we will be able to decide through negotiation any major structural changes in the newsroom. And since we will know in advance of any changes our managers propose, it will give our readers a chance to weigh in.”

Sarah Baker Hansen, The World-Herald’s food critic and a seven-year veteran of the staff, said: “I hope this effort will ensure The World-Herald can be Omaha’s definitive news source for many years to come. World-Herald journalists are uniting to make sure we can play an important role in that future.”

For Martha Stoddard, a Lincoln-based reporter for The World-Herald in the Nebraska Statehouse who has worked on the staff for 15 years, unionizing is a way for the paper to preserve one of its essential roles.

“The Nebraska Capitol bears the saying, ‘The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen,’” she said. “I want The World-Herald to continue being that essential watchdog for our state and our communities. I have seen other newspapers decline in that role because they let talented journalists go. I don’t want that fate for The World-Herald.”

About The NewsGuild-CWA
The NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America represents 25,000 members across the media industry and has been actively organizing major media chains this year. The NewsGuild’s members include journalists and other media workers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico at publications and digital sites that include The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angels Times, Denver Post and Consumer Reports. Formerly known as The Newspaper Guild, the union was founded by journalists in 1933. The Guild merged with the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America in 1995.

Interviews
Interviews with Erin Grace and Todd Cooper can be arranged by contacting Dean Olsen at (217) 836-1068 or owhguild@gmail.com. Olsen also can arrange interviews with Bernard Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild-CWA in Washington, D.C.

Social media
The NewsGuild organizing campaign at the Omaha World-Herald can be followed on Twitter at @owhguild on Facebook at http://facebook.com/owhguild or at the campaign’s website: owhguild.com.

Attachments
Click on this link — http://bit.ly/OmahaWorldHerald — for access to headshots of people quoted in this news release, the logo being used by The World-Herald Guild organizing campaign, exterior photos of the newspaper building and the campaign’s mission statement.

 


 

Contact:
Dean Olsen, NewsGuild organizing consultant, at (217) 836-1068 or owhguild@gmail.com.