A few unionized Gannett employees stood outside Citi’s Global Technology Conference in New York City on Friday morning to get the attention of Gannett CEO Mike Reed inside the Hilton Hotel in Midtown.
Five people — a mix of NewsGuild union staffers and Gannett employees unionized with the NewsGuild (and an inflatable rat named “Scabby”) — wore matching red T-shirts and passed out hundreds of flyers that read “Gannett CEO Mike Reed is killing jobs and killing newsrooms.” The protest was not planned to be a work stoppage or mass participation event, according to a NewsGuild staffer. The Gannett Regional Union chapter of the NewsGuild union includes over 200 members mostly based in New York and New Jersey.
The protestors ultimately spoke with Reed, who came outside and over the course of five minutes discussed the contract bargaining negotiations that have been going on since January, as well as the union’s main grievances with management’s handling of the company, according to the protestors. He said he expected contract settlements with the union by the end of this year, they said.
Gannett declined to comment, though a spokesperson confirmed Reed greeted the protestors and gave them water bottles.
“He’s not the easiest guy to get the attention of,” said Adrian Szkolar, who protested. Szkolar is unit vice chair at Gannett’s Atlantic Digital Optimization Team (DOT) and a producer at the company who oversees mostly New York-based digital news sites. “I expected him to duck out, but he was willing to talk.”
This was the first such protest by Gannett’s union.
“We don’t feel under Mike Reed that his decisions and corporate leadership are committed to actual journalism, to their own industry,” Szkolar said. Szkolar cited Gannett’s most recent earnings report — which showed digital-only subscription revenue was up 35% year-to-year. “The people responsible for that are the journalists. That upsets us. They continue to announce these layoffs at the very thing that they say is making them money,” he said.
Gannett recently laid off 400 employees (about 3% of the company’s total workforce) and eliminated 400 open positions, despite receiving $16 million in taxpayer subsidies from the Paycheck Protection Program and a recent $100 million stock buyback program.
With the recent layoffs, Gannett employees said they are working under strained conditions with skeleton staff at local newsrooms. The union is also concerned about employees’ salaries: the median Gannett employee makes $48,419, according to the union, with at least one remote, full-time employee making around $30,000 a year.
The layoffs last month began a week after the company announced it had lost $54 million on $749 million of revenues during its second quarter.
Last month, hundreds of unionized Gannett journalists organized a national “lunch out,” where workers walked out at lunchtime and flooded executives’ inboxes through a “Reply All” tactic.
Digital media unions have been busy the week of Labor Day: The NBC Guild delivered a letter to NBC News management signed by 210 unit members demanding an improved return to office plan and a reinstatement of several remote employees who were fired. Dotdash Meredith’s union published a parody on People magazine’s long-running “Half Their Size” issue to call out recent layoffs and exits at the company. The Atlantic’s business and tech workers won a voluntary recognition of its union on Sept. 2.