Reuters employees stage walkout at NABJ-NAHJ conference
Reuters Journalists attending the NABJ-NAHJ conference in Las Vegas this week found a way to participate in a 24-hour strike alongside hundreds of union members nationwide.
They decided not to show up to the company’s booth at the conference’s career fair, joining roughly 300 journalists in New York, Washington, D.C., and others states in a walkout that started Thursday 6 a.m. to call attention to the lagging progress on the union’s contract renewal negotiations, according to the Communications Workers of America’s NewsGuild, which represents Reuters reporters, photographers and video journalists based in the U.S.
It’s the first walkout in decades among its staff that has been unionized for the last three decades.
“We’re hoping that it starts a broader conversation within the conference and the news industry,” said Trevor Hunnicutt, a White House correspondent and a member of the Reuters Guild’s bargaining committee who has been participating in meetings for nearly two years. “Journalists should expect equity in the workplace and other news outlets, and be able to have these conversations.”
Roughly 90% of Reuters employees represented by the union participated in the walkout nationwide, according to the NewsGuild.
There are 16 reporters, editors, and top leadership officials attending the NABJ-NAHJ conference this week in Las Vegas, Hunnicutt said. Of those, 11 are Reuters Guild members.
Each member took an individualized approach to the walkout while at the conference. Since they were already off the clock, they didn’t write any stories. Although they didn’t show up to the Reuters booth Thursday, many hoped to recruit reporters throughout the week by sitting down for coffee with possible candidates or holding conversations with them in other areas of the career fair.
“We didn’t want to restrict our ability to participate in the conference and better ourselves as journalists,” Hunnicutt said. “We want to talk to people at the conference to recruit a new and diverse workforce.”
The walkout coincided with the company’s second-quarter earnings announcement, which aims to broadcast profits and attract the attention of customers and investors. Hunnicutt said that was intentional since many reporters went on strike because Reuters management hasn’t agreed to guaranteed annual wage increases that would take into account the cost of living and inflation.
The Reuters Guild initially asked for an 8% increase over three years. After receiving a zero percent counteroffer from management, union members responded with an 8% increase that would eventually decrease to 6% incrementally after three years. The latest offer the union received was a 1 percent raise, but guild members said that translates to a pay cut because it doesn’t take into account the rising cost of living and inflation.
Julio-César Chávez, a Reuters video reporter who participated in the conference walkout, said there are also non-monetary priorities that need to be addressed in their contract renewal negotiations, such as health and safety on assignments.
Reporters, especially those in photography and video, typically have to be in person to do their jobs, Chávez said, often working on challenging or dangerous assignments, such as the war in Ukraine, extreme weather events, violent protests and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We do the work because we want to, but it deserves to be recognized,” he added. “It deserves to be compensated fairly.”
In the summer of 2020, while covering protests in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Chávez said he was shot with rubber bullets. Employees at Reuters have access to therapy resources and often undergo safety and hostile environment awareness trainings before being sent out to an assignment, but Chávez said it is still important for top leadership at Reuters to listen to employees putting themselves in risky situations for their jobs.
“They do take care of us,” he said. “It’s important that they do because they’re the ones sending us to hostile environments, and only if we agree to go.”
Guild members have also filed a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, according to a NewsGuild press release.
Top leaders at Reuters have failed to meet with reporters and have used stalling tactics in renewing their latest bargaining contract, which expired in December 2020, such as postponing meetings or not speaking to reporters, according to a NewsGuild press release.
Reuters spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the organization is committed to ongoing negotiations with the NewsGuild as they work to establish a renewed contract for union employees working across the nation, and will continue to work with the Guild committee.
“We have extensive contingency plans in place that will minimize this brief disruption and are confident that we will deliver the highest quality of service to all our customers,” the statement read.
The NewsGuild said Reuters reporters have proposed 15 bargaining dates this month — all of which have been rejected by management. There are no pending plans for a bargaining meeting this month as of Friday.
Demonstrations from media workers have been growing increasingly common across the nation. Media workers in publications such as Buzzfeed, the Miami Herald, and the New York Times Co.’s Wirecutter have staged walkouts over the past year.
The NABJ-NAHJ Career Fair started Wednesday and will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Friday afternoon. Many Guild employees at the conference are not planning on visiting the Reuters booth.
A regional editor for Reuters, who deferred comment to the organization’s spokesperson, was present at the booth Thursday.
Monique Welch, a digital reporter for the Houston Chronicle, stopped by the Reuter’s booth Thursday morning to learn more about potential job opportunities. She didn’t know the publication’s union was on strike and said it raises some concerns.
When a company isn’t entirely transparent about internal issues, Welch said, it makes her wonder why they didn’t disclose that information or what other issues are happening within the organization.
“It’s definitely concerning and a little alarming, especially just with any news organization to learn that they are on a strike or going through a strike or any type of unionizing practice because also, it makes you wonder why employees are doing this?” she said, adding it’s important to look into how the company handles the problem and whether they are being transparent about it.
“At least they’re paying attention, and they’re listening and they’re hearing the concerns of workers who make their brands,” Welch said.
Heidi Perez-Moreno is a senior at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she is pursuing a degree in journalism. She reports in English and Spanish, and is completing an internship as a Metro reporter for the L.A. Times en Español. She wants to pursue a career in narrative journalism. Reach her at heidi.perez0123 [at] gmail [dot] com and on Twitter @heyperezmoreno.