Why we’re on strike at the D&C

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A few weeks after I was hired at the Democrat and Chronicle in the spring of 2012, the leaders of the Newspaper Guild of Rochester took me out for lunch to lay out the benefits of union membership.

It didn’t take long.

Justin Murphy
(Photo: Jamie Germano)

Through several rounds of one-sided contract settlements, they said, the Guild had lost most of its bargaining chips. There was no real recourse if the company decided to impose furloughs or layoffs or a newsroom restructuring—all things that did in fact happen more than once over the next several years.

The only visible sign that our newsroom was unionized was a little-used bulletin board by the vending machines with a few old stickers and pins on it. The Guild had about 80 members then but no power to speak of. Gannett was free to act as it pleased, usually to devastating result.

What a difference a decade has made.

The Guild, now reduced to 25 members, is currently on the 11th day of an open-ended strike. We’re protesting repeated unfair labor practices and seeking a successor contract to the one that expired in 2019.

The contract we’re seeking will include a number of important items that should’ve been there all along:

■ Adequate pay for both our youngest colleagues, so that they can afford to stay in the industry, and some of our more senior ones, who have dedicated decades to the company in exchange for shameful compensation.

■ Protections against furloughs and layoffs, including seeking volunteers in cutbacks and some recognition of seniority.

■ A prohibition against reassigning journalists to different beats or geographical areas without consent.

■ Assurance that artificial intelligence and other technological advances will supplement and not supplant the work of experienced journalists.

Calling a strike was not an easy decision or a hasty one. For more than two years we have been trying to achieve a contract without a work stoppage, which inevitably affects not just the striking workers themselves but the community we serve. We have made reasonable demands, responded promptly to the company’s positions and opened up our schedules to bargain at any time they request.

Unfortunately, our good faith has not been reciprocated. It took months for the company to concede that the expired contract would need to be updated at all. Time and time again they have wasted weeks at a time by holding onto our proposals without responding. Their outside attorneys have often been hostile, aloof and disinterested.

We made it clear to the company in late March that we intended to strike before the solar eclipse if we hadn’t yet come to terms. This seemed like the sort of leverage to motivate both sides: after all, our executive editor, Mike Kilian, had spent the preceding months telling us how crucial our journalistic contributions would be on this once-in-a-lifetime news event. Surely he wouldn’t want us all sitting at home for it?

As it turned out, Kilian and Gannett didn’t mind at all. They apparently thought that contributions from a few harried journalists plus a few unexperienced out-of-state scab workers would serve just as well. They’ve relied on the same formula since then, filling the print and online newspapers with syndicated schlock and paltry contributions from the few journalists they’ve found who lack the scruples to respect a picket line. This is an insult to us—but, more significantly, it’s an insult to you, our readers. Kilian and Gannett didn’t think you’d notice such an abrupt and galling decline in news quality.

What we’ve seen on the picket line over the last two weeks persuades us that they calculated wrong.

■ We’ve had thousands of messages of support from our readers, both in-person and online.

■ More than 400 people have donated nearly $28,000 to our strike fund, which is helping keep Guild members afloat while we continue our fight.

■ Local businesses, including Ugly Duck Coffee, Sticky Lips Barbecue and Ludwig’s Center Stage Café, have donated food and drink to picketers unprompted.

■ Numerous elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, County Executive Adam Bello and Mayor Malik Evans, have visited the picket line or written letters of support.

■ The D&C had to cancel a Storytellers event after the participants said they wouldn’t cross our picket line.

■ Numerous sources have told us that they’ve declined interview requests from editors and non-union journalists that the D&C has brought in.

This support has touched our hearts and convinced us even further that our fight is a righteous one. It has put us back in touch with old colleagues, old sources and old friends. Indeed, it has reminded us why we got into journalism in the first place.

From all those supporters, and from you, we have one more big request. Please join us outside the D&C building, 245 E. Main St., from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday. It will be the largest rally for local journalism that Rochester has even seen, and we need you to help make it happen. Our hope is that demonstrating the overwhelming level of love and support we’ve gotten over the last two weeks will force Gannett back to the bargaining table so that we can get back to the newsroom. We truly hope to see you there.

Fighting for a contract against a multibillion-dollar corporation can sometimes be discouraging. I can say with sincerity, though, that this strike has brought our Guild members closer together than ever before. Most importantly, we’ve shored up our collective resolve that we’re justified in our position. We know that Gannett needs us, whether or not it wants to admit it. More importantly, we know that Rochester needs us—but we need a contract.

Please, join us at 5 p.m. Wednesday and add your voice to the chorus: our community deserves high-quality local journalism.

Justin Murphy is the vice chair of the Newspaper Guild of Rochester and, when he’s not on strike, the education reporter at the Democrat and Chronicle.

The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

14 thoughts on “Why we’re on strike at the D&C

  1. I have contacted Justin Murphy concerning the RSCD/RCSB on a number of occasions. I received zero response for my efforts. Now you’re asking for my response to your mission. Communication is a two way street. If one thinks that Rochester will get the attention from the headquarters, think again. Bottom line is the word. Those who reside in the ivory tower could care less. That will soon be realized.

  2. I’m been a subscriber of the D&C for many decades inspite of the past decade of increasing misinformation and disinformation that is reported especially from the national sources of USATODAY. Associated Press. New York Times, Reuters, etc. I would be more empathetic if real journalism would come back. According to Pew Research or a Gallup poll, only 14% of the public have good confidence in newspaper reporting. What the D&C needs is a whistle blower like Uri Berliner.

  3. We need local news. We support unions. When 5 or 6 conglomerates where the CEO grabs an enormous percent of the financial rewards AND control of decision making we have a spectacularly unfree press. Where is the voice of the people? In a democracy we must guarantee the voice of the people. As our treasured Democrat and Chronicle discounts the expert contributions of local investigative jounalism we are reduced to reading the notions of oligarchs. If Gannet keeps providing us news reports by Associated Press we’ll make do with that and sorely miss local news. What we need is local news + at least summary statements of national & international news daily both in print & digital with substantive studies of key issues on weekends. To do less stifles journalism’s mission and severely cripples gov’t & humanity’s ability to address the needs of the common good. Print is essential in this age of digital threats/hacking and power outages. Thank you, Justin Murphy, et, al.

  4. I am glad the Beacon is covering this story because it is not being covered by the D&C. The only thing I noticed was the poor quality of the articles and the new journalists and then it suddenly dawned on me that the strike must be continuing. Hope to see our hard-working regular journalists back soon!

  5. The supporters whom you’ve named are all Democrats. You can use that fact to lean further left in your coverage of local news or you can take a cue that more balanced reporting might get broader support in the community. BTW check out your editorial board. With that group in place you can be sure that, at best, you are only reaching half of the community I wish you the best in your quest for a new contract. P

    • I always find it amusing that when someone accuses a traditional media outlet of failing to provide balanced reporting , what the Accuser really means is that that outlet is reporting news which the Accuser would rather see buried. Or the outlet isn’t reporting the rumors and speculations which the Accuser wants to see publicized.

      But by all means give us a few examples of the D&Cs “unbalanced” reporting.

      • I agree with this red herring of “fair and balanced.” Isn’t that the slogan of Fox News?

        There is no “fair and balanced” when it comes to factual reporting. The facts are the truth and the belief in “alternative facts” is the work of the devil.

        When it comes to opinion or interpretations of what the facts mean, then it may be appropriate to have various perspectives. Facts can mean different things to different people in different places at different times for different reasons, but their interpretation is something beyond the accuracy and validity of what is reported.

        There used to be a distinction between “reporting the news” that is describing the facts, and editorializing. That distinction appears to have eroded when news became entertainment and views were sold to advertisers, and news organizations sold their soul to the devil to make money. “If it bleeds, it leads.” The more emotionally arousing and sensationalized the better because it meant more viewers with longer engagement.

        I support the Beacon because it is non profit and its funding is not dependent on advertising dollars garnered from the number of viewers. Because of this independence from selling viewers attention to advertisers, hopefully it can stay focused on performing its true function which is inform the public whether they find the truth to their liking or not.

        Sometimes the truth hurts and when it comes to bad news there is no “fair and balanced”. The truth is what it is like it or not.

      • Fair and balanced ought to be the mission. It is not, period. Don’t know if you’all realize it, but the City of Rochester is 100% Democrat. Like most other cities, they have their problems. Education being the numero uno. It is failing our kids period. It has for decades! That failure assures that the urban Rochester will remain a city with generational poverty, youth crime and all the associated misery. Instead of flying the Democrat flag maybe getting down to the business of educating our urban youth ought to be your mission. I could give you an example or two about the reporting. Investigative journalism is all but vanished. Journalism not far behind. I have been “reporting” with a solution based effort to address the education crisis for years. There is a lot of grandstanding, reporting of sorts, but zero….zero results.

  6. With you 100%……There are very few news sources/outlets that I trust to get my “big news” — Heather Cox Richardson and Dan Rather — yes he is still publishing. I have trust issues with the rest. Good journalism is a must. Big corporations continue to “steam roll” — and show up in our government everywhere…and in our news medias (yes…Chanel 13…and Channel 8…and Channel 7 — all tainted by big money.). Thank you for taking a very necessary stand.


    Although my medical problems make it difficult for me to join you Wednesday, please know that I am 100% in support of tour STRIKE.

    Don Bartalo
    69 Cascade Drive
    Rochester, NY 14614

  8. One of the few components of the D & C that is most valuable is the local journalism. The other stuff can be found in other sources and is easily accessed without the D & C. But local news is in very short supply or non existent and is what has much more value because of its relevance to the community we live in. Apparently, the business leaders at Gannett don’t recognize where their real opportunities for community and growth lie.

    It is extremely worthwhile for the newspaper business and the community to support local journalism and that takes “feet on the ground” and relationships between reporters and local community members. These relationships take time, effort, patience, nurturing, and skill that can’t be replaced by AI or external entities.

    I hope community members will support even further the local journalists who work in our community to keep us informed so that we can work together more effectively and efficiently for the common good.

  9. Sadly, the answer here might be a quote from John Wayne in the Shootist “Mister, you’d better find another line of work” . This is like the issues with NYS, most of the issues here are attempts to treat the symptoms , not the problem. I had a peripheral job back in the day @ the old Gannett Building, it was grand monument to the newspaper industry. It published 2 editions daily, and in hindsight, roaming around the building sometimes felt like a movie set for some of the classic movies about newspapers (like Deadline USA or All the President’s Men). It (and Gannett) could now be a movie plot for the “incredible shrinking newspaper” . They’ve had to stop endorsing candidates because its POing readers, many people find it biased (thus contributing to shrinking readership) , these so called bastions of “free-press” won’t allow public comments by subscribers on their articles (the Beacon has figured out how to do it, so it can be done,) Gannett doesn’t seem to be interested in their readers opinions, only their own, and they wonder why there is declining readership. It was announced recently that Gannett would be dropping AP (i thought that was their whole business model, splash with AP national stories, and have the local entities (like D&C) pepper the edition with a few local stories.) To an outsider, this is obviously managing the decline. As the saying goes, you cant get blood out of a stone, thus a Union isn’t going to get more out of a dying business. If they force it, Gannett will either eventually go out of business, or replace personnel with AI.

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