Photo: Yevgen Romanenko, Getty Images
The newsroom staff of the Bangor Daily News and other Bangor Publishing Company newspapers announced on Wednesday that they had shared with management their plans to unionize.
Organizers said an overwhelming majority of eligible staff have signed cards declaring their desire to join the News Guild of Maine, Local 31128 of The NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America.
“It started last fall as a conversation about working conditions and a more equitable pay structure,” said BDN photojournalist Troy Bennett, one of the organizers. “It has not been a hard sell for people. We have close to 90% support on our document that we delivered to management this morning.”
The union would represent about 30 BDN journalists, digital editors, page designers, photographers and editorial page writers, including staff at the Bangor Publishing Company’s other local news sites, St. John Valley Times, Fiddlehead Focus, The County, Piscataquis Observer, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times, Presque Isle Star-Herald and the Penobscot Times.
Bennett explained that increasingly insufficient staffing levels has led to high staff turnover at the state’s only independently owned daily newspaper.
“Especially in the last few years, it’s been a revolving door,” he said. “The working conditions are tough. So people are immediately looking for greener pastures as soon as they get here.”
Bennett said that newsroom staff want a seat at the table to fix the problem.
“We’re just being made to work faster, faster, faster,” he said. “We’ve been asked to do more with less for so long, we assume they’re going to ask us to do everything with nothing,” he said, adding, “Why don’t we have a seat at the table and a say in our own future?”
BDN political reporter Jessica Piper echoed Bennett’s concerns. “In the bit more than two years that I’ve been with the BDN, I’ve seen many smart, caring reporters come and go,” she said in a statement issued by the organizers. “For the newspaper to thrive, we need talented staff to stay.”
BDN journalists’ push to unionize is just the latest swell in a wave of media professionals getting organized that began in 2015. Since then, journalists or tech support staff at the New York Times, Politico, The Atlantic, Kansas City Star and Los Angeles Daily News, among other newspapers, digital outlets and broadcast stations, have all successfully certified their unions, some voluntarily recognized by management and others proceeding with elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
The ongoing wave of media unions has been a source of optimism for workers and advocates who are hopeful that the country is witnessing a renewal of the labor movement, as demonstrated most recently by Starbucks and Amazon workers unionizing previously unorganized sectors of the U.S. economy.
In Maine, Maine Medical Center nurses and Portland Museum of Art workers won union elections in 2021 amid opposition from management. Preble Street workers won big pay raises in their new contract signed in April.
BDN staff are hoping that management voluntarily recognizes the union, making a union election unnecessary. Organizers and supporters are sharing a petition asking management to recognize the union.
Bennett said management has not formally responded. “They were accepted cordially and said they’d be in touch,” he said.
Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.