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San Antonio Express-News, MySA.com journalists announce union; fourth Texas newsroom in 2024

Journalists at the 'San Antonio Express-News and MySA.com announced their intent to unionize on Wednesday.
San Antonio News Guild
Journalists at the San Antonio-Express News announced their decision to form a union on Wednesday.

Journalists at the San Antonio Express-News and MySA.com announced their intent to unionize on Wednesday, becoming the fourth Texas newsroom to announce a union effort in 2024 alongside the San Antonio Report, the Texas Tribune, and Houston Landing.

Workers said their union, the San Antonio NewsGuild, had the support of 68% of their newsroom — 46 employees out of the 68-person unit — and called on management to offer them voluntary recognition.

In its press release, the union said Hearst’s labor counsel denied their request for voluntary recognition and that they are now filing for a National Labor Relations Board election.

In a statement, the union laid out its mission statement.

“We will strive for an inclusive environment where every member feels respected, valued and able to reach their full potential. Our union is dedicated to promoting a workplace that celebrates differences in race, gender, age, sexual orientation and background. We are advocating for fair and competitive compensation, stable benefits and career development opportunities. The San Antonio Express-News and MySA are forming a union to safeguard our future as a news provider.”

The Express-News journalists' decision to unionize is part of a larger trend of unionization sweeping across an industry that — already in a long decline — saw record layoffs in 2023, including at the Los Angeles Times, NPR, the Washington Post, Gannett newspapers, and many other newsrooms.

Richard Marini is a general assignment reporter in the SA Life section of the Express-News and a 23-year veteran of the paper. He said journalists at the paper wanted to secure their careers and avoid problems that have happened in the past at the paper.

“We had a stretch at the Express-News of about 10 years stretching from 2009 to maybe 2019 when we got no raises at all,” he said.

Marini said he was happy with the paper’s current leadership but knows things could change for the worse.

“I just want to make sure that if the publisher leaves, or the editor leaves or whatever, we don’t go back to a case where we have to go 10 years without a raise, where we have two relatively major layoffs as well,” he said.

The union press release also called the shrinkage the Express-News has recently experienced “unsustainable” as reporters have had to do more with less.

The San Antonio NewsGuild logo.
San Antonio NewsGuild
The San Antonio NewsGuild logo.

In an email from the newspaper’s publisher Mark Medici to staff on Wednesday morning, which was shared with TPR, he pushed back on the union efforts in a discussion of staff benefits and an email the union recently sent to their union-eligible coworkers.

“It’s worth noting that the latest 401k enhancements are for non-union employees only, and they’re substantially better than the 401k benefits negotiated by Guild-represented units within Hearst newspapers,” Medici said in the email.

Medici said one of Hearst’s union newsrooms, the Albany Times Union, has failed to negotiate a contract for 14 years, and suggested workers could end up worse off if they unionize.

“Here’s what the email left out: If a union is certified at the Express-News, the two sides will begin bargaining with a blank slate,” he said. “All existing wages and benefits will be on the table, and the union cannot make any guarantees as to the outcome. There is no assurance a contract will be successfully negotiated or that pay and benefits will remain where they are today, let alone be enhanced.”

The San Antonio NewsGuild said the message from Medici represented “the latest in a continued pattern of union-busting from management, which has attempted to internally paint the union in a negative light through misinformation.”

Elaine Ayala, a metro columnist and another longtime veteran of the Express-News, said in the union press release that journalists were forming the union out of their love for the paper.

“We didn’t come to this decision lightly,” she said. “We made it after careful reflection of this newsroom’s past, present and future. The truth is we’ve needed union representation at the Express-News for a long time, and we’re glad this day has finally arrived. What we know is that we promise to continue to produce good journalism, to be faithful to our jobs and to one another, and to work with management to reach common goals.”

Beyond layoff protections and a say in consistent raises, Marini said the union would wait until contract talks with the Express-News begin before getting to specifics.

The Express-News is the largest and oldest newsroom in San Antonio; the San Antonio Express was founded in 1865, and then purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1992. It is still owned by the Hearst Corporation, which owns three other unionized newspapers around the country, as well as the non-union Houston Chronicle.

Marini said the unionizing journalists recognize the history of the paper as another reason to unionize.

Newsroom staff at the digital nonprofit outlet said they have 100% support among their coworkers. They seek to address pay inequities, layoff protections, barriers between donors and journalism, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts.

“I think it's a way to help continue the 150-plus years that the Express-News has been publishing,” Marini said. “I was around when we celebrated that 150th anniversary. So I think having a strong union and the solidarity among, certainly, the newsroom will help that continue.”

The Express-News unit is organizing with the Media Guild of the West, an affiliate of The News Guild-Communication Workers of America, which also organized the three other Texas newsrooms that have announced unionization in 2024.

Marini said he’s been involved with the union talks for a few months, but that discussions have been going on at the Express-News for a year.

Most of the union organizers in the newsroom are much younger than the 67-year-old Marini. He said he wishes he had thought to unionize years ago but is glad to be among his current coworkers.

“I'm very impressed with the fact that most of the reporters who are behind this are, at least in my eyes, relatively young,” he said. “I kind of wish we had done something like this years ago. But I'm very impressed with their enthusiasm. I think they're looking around and seeing the unstable world of journalism, and they feel that this might give it more stability, so that they could have careers as successful journalists.”

In his email to staff, Medici said he thought a union was the wrong decision.

“I continue to believe that you and the Express-News are better served by a direct relationship between employees and management,” Medici said. “It’s the best way to preserve the culture we have built and the highly competitive pay and benefits we enjoy as we strive to deliver first-class journalism for our community.”

Express-News Editor-in-Chief Marc Duvoisin shared comments from Hearst Newspapers President Jeff Johnson regarding the unionization announcement: “We look forward to making the case to our employees, on the merits, that it’s not in their best interest to unionize the Express-News newsroom,” Johnson said in a statement. “Hearst deeply values a direct relationship with its employees, and our track record of additional benefits, annual bonuses for all employees and a no-layoff policy during the pandemic is second to none in the media industry.”

Duvoisin also shared an additional comment from Medici.

Express-News journalists receive annual merit raises, and they have experienced none of the harsh austerity so pervasive in the news industry of late, including furloughs, pay cuts and layoffs,” Medici said in the statement. “Even during the depths of the pandemic, Hearst paid merit raises, and last year the paper significantly increased its entry-level journalist salary to attract and retain the best talent. All of this is consistent with Hearst’s mission to serve its communities with first-rate journalism, treat its employees fairly and ensure the viability of its newspapers for the long term.”

Both the San Antonio Report and the Texas Tribune, which operate as nonprofits, unlike the Express-News, received voluntary recognition from their respective managements within a couple of weeks of announcing their unions.

There is not yet a date set for the NLRB election at the Express-News.

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