Business and Development

Journalists at Kentucky’s largest print newspaper say they want to make their workplace better through a union.

On Tuesday, a group of Courier Journal staff announced plans to organize with an Indianapolis chapter of The NewsGuild-CWA, a national labor union representing media and communications workers.

They’re seeking to address issues such as newsroom departures and managerial decisions with their owner Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper publisher.

They say their goals include creating a pay raise system that benefits long-time employees and removing paywalls from online stories of significant public interest, such as natural disasters.

Dahlia Ghabour is a food and dining reporter at the Courier Journal involved with the organizing effort and was previously a union member at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla. They said the journalists want more say in their newsroom.

“We are tired of decisions being made at the high level about our working conditions without our knowledge or consent. We’re tired of the lack of communication from upper management and hearing nothing but demands for more, more, more,” said Ghabour, who has worked at the paper for three years.

Ghabour said Gannett failed to communicate with staff about its decisions to close the paper’s downtown printing presses in March 2021, which cost about 100 local workers their jobs, and to change staff’s newsroom positions this month.

They added the newsroom has dealt with layoffs and cost-cutting measures typical of the journalism industry. Almost three weeks ago, Gannett laid off dozens of workers following recent revenue losses, including Tim Sullivan, a sports columnist who worked at the Courier Journal for ten years.

Ghabour said an additional 15 workers decided to leave the Courier Journal since the beginning of 2022. While they said some chose to exit to pursue great job opportunities, others had been struggling at the paper.

“We want this place to be a place that people don’t feel the need to leave from. If everyone was supported here and paid enough and paid well, then they wouldn’t want to leave,” Ghabour said.

About 35 workers would be eligible to vote for representation with Indianapolis NewsGuild Local 34070, according to a NewsGuild press release. Ghabour said that number includes reporters and photographers, with about 70% of eligible workers in favor of unionizing.

That includes Olivia Krauth, who has worked as an education reporter with the Courier Journal for three years. She said increasing pay will help the paper retain journalists.

“I feel as if, you know, we had higher pay, if we got raises that were more regular, if there were actual efforts to make us feel valued instead of just giving us more work… we would have a better chance of keeping some of those people who are leaving. And that would make a stronger product overall,” Krauth said.

She said the organizing effort began at least a year ago but struggled to go public due to employee turnover, which impacted how many journalists were on board with the move. Krauth runs the group’s Twitter account and said she had expected to post Tuesday’s union announcement back in January.

Krauth added that the local unionization effort is important to her as a native Kentuckian.

“I think I’m one of the few people in the newsroom who’s actually from Kentucky. I personally am not from Louisville, but the rest of my dad’s side of the family is from here. So it means a lot to me to make sure that a Louisville paper succeeds, and that Kentucky as a whole has quality journalism,” Krauth said.

Gannett owns more than 200 U.S. newspapers, including USA Today. Only two are located in the Commonwealth: the Courier Journal and the Gleaner in Henderson, KY.

Ghabour said the group filed with the NLRB on Tuesday to begin the unionization process and plans to ask Gannett to voluntarily approve the union despite not expecting them to agree. So far, over a dozen Gannett papers have unionized. The publisher hasn’t chosen to recognize any of those unions, instead forcing staffs to vote.

Amy Garrad, Gannett’s labor relations counsel, responded to the unionization effort in an email to WFPL:

“We respect the right of employees at the Courier Journal to make a fully informed choice for themselves whether to unionize or not unionize. Gannett strongly supports the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) election process and has always participated in that process fairly and in good faith.”

The Courier Journal staff will likely vote in a secret ballot election with the NLRB, though it is not clear when.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that one in six journalists in the country are union members, and a quarter of them are represented by a union in their newsroom. About 40% of journalists surveyed said they do not have a union but would join one if given the chance.

National support for unions is also at its highest level since 1965, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Jacob is WFPL's Business and Development Reporter.