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Regional News

Staff At Daily Hampshire Gazette, Valley Advocate Vote For Union

From left, Dave Eisenstadter, Dane Kuttler, Bera Dunau and Dusty Christensen after ballots were counted during a vote on whether to form a union. All four are supporters of the newly-formed Pioneer Valley NewsGuild.
Carol Lollis
/
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
From left, Dave Eisenstadter, Dane Kuttler, Bera Dunau and Dusty Christensen after the ballots were counted. All four are supporters of the newly formed Pioneer Valley NewsGuild.

Employees at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Valley Advocate have voted to unionize. The official vote Wednesday followed lobbying against the effort by the newspapers' parent company.

Forty staff members voted in favor of the union and 29 in opposition, according to JoAnne Howlett, who supervised the election for the National Labor Relations Board.

An additional five votes — too few to change the outcome — were not counted because they were challenged by one side or the other.

That margin is tighter than union organizers signaled last month, when they presented management with signatures from about 70 percent of eligible employees, and asked for voluntary recognition of the union. They didn't get it, and Wednesday's vote was scheduled.

"It may have been closer than we thought," said Bera Dunau, a reporter and one of the union organizers. "But honestly, it's still a commanding win, and we're very happy with this result."

Dunau said that after the votes were tallied, Newspapers of New England president and CEO Aaron Julien shook his hand.

"He did not say anything to me," Dunau said. "But I have a feeling we're going to have a lot more words in the future — all positive and good."

Julien in recent weeks has acknowledged the company faltered in its communication with employees, and vowed to improve on that. But he cautioned staff that a union would "erode this newspaper," in part by "injecting an outside third party into our relationship."

Julien also suggested a unionized workforce would make it harder for the regional publisher to stay independent.

Newspapers of New England also owns the Greenfield Recorder and Athol Daily News, along with a few papers in New Hampshire. Those papers were not included in this effort to unionize.

"In the face of stiff financial and industry headwinds, we’ve held onto this family group of newspapers rather than selling to a larger organization because we believe we can treat our employees and communities far better than a remotely owned chain would," Julien wrote to employees in November.

A week later, Julien reassigned the company's Massachusetts publisher, Michael Rifanburg, and took on publishing duties himself.

Julien's comments about national chains did not sway Dane Kuttler, who runs the Gazette's classifieds page.

"It's not being sold that worries me," Kuttler said Wednesday night. "It's the instability and insecurity. And having a union means no matter who owns us, they're going to have to negotiate. They're going to have to come to the table and we will be there at that table."

Julien has not responded to NEPR's multiple requests for comment in the last month, including Wednesday night.

Unless the NLRB receives objections to the process — with proof — within seven days, regulators will certify the union. Before beginning collective bargaining, the union will nominate and elect union officers and stewards.

Kuttler said the thing she wants most from the contract process is "for everyone to be heard." The union will include employees from across departments, including circulation, maintenance and the printing press.

"It is going to be messy — inevitably. It is going to be hard — inevitably," Kuttler said. "It is going to be amazingly joyous, too."

Dave Eisenstadter, an editor at the Gazette who until recently was editor of the Valley Advocate, said he is looking for "secure job descriptions."

Dunau said he has heard from distribution employees that their hours are set weekly, and he wants that addressed in the contract.

"Everybody deserves to know how many hours they're working every month," Dunau said.

The employees have organized under the name Pioneer Valley NewsGuild. It would be a chapter of NewsGuild, which itself is an arm of the Communication Workers of America.

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