Thursday is the beginning of a four-day national meetup in Louisville aimed at getting journalists and organized labor to understand each other better. It comes as journalists at some national digital-news outlets have sought — and established — unions.
The goal of the event, organizers say, is to eventually develop a Nationwide Center for Media Workers here in Louisville.
Labor reporter Mike Elk said the city was an obvious choice for a summit designed to hash out issues involving journalists and workers’ rights. For one, Elk said, Louisville was home to civil rights activists and reporters Anne and Carl Braden.
“Louisville is at the crosscurrents of so many different things,” Elk said. “It’s a microcosm of what’s happening in the United States. You have the Kentucky labor movement fighting ALEC and right-to-work.”
Labor groups oppose right-to-work laws because they eliminate the requirement that workers pay union dues as a condition of their employment. Here in Kentucky, organized labor has stepped up outreach ahead of the gubernatorial election next month.
Republican candidate Matt Bevin has promised to push a right-to-work law if elected. Democratic candidate Jack Conway opposes such laws.
Norwood Orrick, one of the organizers of the summit in Louisville, said the media could learn some lessons from how unions get their priorities across — especially at a time when the media landscape is going through major changes.
“We have to get over this idea that we are on this higher plane and we are automatically protected and don’t need the protection of a union or the power that comes with speaking with one voice,” he said.
Elk, who used to cover labor for Politico, said journalism has suffered as a result of massive turnover in newsrooms. He also said media outlets need to start better understanding workers.
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“Media workers have a lot to learn from workers in other occupations,” he said. “So we are not limiting this to digital journalists. We are saying this is about media and labor understanding one another better.”
Several digital-news websites have begun talks of unionizing. In June, Gawker was the first online-only outlet to vote to unionize. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez announced he will visit with Gawker staff Friday to discuss the company’s work relations.
According to the Media Workers Unite website, the organizers hope to “create a non-traditional labor committee, develop our own industry-wide campaigns to promote the right to self-determination and workplace democracy over 12 key areas of media workers’ rights.”
Of Louisville, the organization’s mission statement says: “We have chosen this site because it is an important part of the hidden history of media workers. Carl and his wife Anne Braden were white, Southern, trade unionists who fought for racial justice.”
Elk said organizers are expecting more than 100 people to take part in the inaugural summit.