Wisconsin Watch employees seek union representation for nonprofit newsroom

Employees at Wisconsin Watch are asking the nonprofit investigative reporting newsroom’s administration to voluntarily recognize a union that they announced Monday.

“This is not about money. This is not about benefits or anything like that,” Wisconsin Watch reporter Jacob Resneck told the Wisconsin Examiner.

The primary focus, he said, was to promote a more democratic workplace and prevent arbitrary firings, ensuring that “you could only lose your job for a cause.”

Resneck said the investigative newsroom had never received any pressure from donors about its coverage. As “at-will” employees under Wisconsin law, however, a union contract can offer “peace of mind” against that possibility, he said.

“It injects a degree of democracy in your workplace where workers have a voice and can ask for transparency,” he said. “They can work out issues without any fear of retribution.”

The union drive follows a transition at Wisconsin Watch with the retirement of its founders, Andy and Dee Hall. The Halls founded the nonprofit news organization as the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism in 2009.

Resneck said while the timing of the union organizing effort coincided with the Halls’ exit, concerns about the risks of at-will employment had already been a topic of conversation among staff members.

The union organization at Wisconsin Watch also joins a flurry of organizing in digital newsrooms along with stepped up union activism at large legacy news organizations such as the New York Times and Gannett.

In June, employees at ProPublica, a pioneer in nonprofit, public service journalism, announced they had organized a union. ProPublica management signaled early their intent to voluntarily recognize the union and did so about six weeks after the union drive went public.

The Wisconsin Watch union drive covers the entire organization, including administrative as well as newsroom employees — about 10 people currently, or a dozen or more including some staff vacancies, Resneck said.

The union members emailed Wisconsin Watch CEO George Stanley, board chair Brant Houston and the rest of the nonprofit’s board of directors Monday morning, notifying them that 80% of the organization’s staff had signed cards authorizing representation by The NewsGuild, part of the Communications Workers of America.

“Our commitment to serving the people of Wisconsin through award-winning journalism remains unwavering,” the letter states. “We joined this organization because we believe in its mission: increasing the quality, quantity and understanding of investigative journalism in Wisconsin to foster an informed citizenry and strengthen democracy. Our union will improve the transparency, security, culture and diversity of our organization, allowing us to safeguard our role as an indispensable source of rigorous, relevant, fact-checked journalism.”

The Wisconsin Examiner has requested comment from Stanley and Houston and will update this report when they respond. 

Stanley took the reins at Wisconsin Watch this month after retiring the editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where Local 51 of The NewsGuild represents newsroom employees. 

“Our executive board stands in strong support of the Wisconsin Watch employees who are unionizing their workplace,” said Local 51 President Rory Linnane in a statement Monday. “They produce outstanding investigative journalism and they deserve the protection and representation of a union.”

Resneck said it has yet to be determined whether Wisconsin Watch employees would form their own local, join Local 51 or join some other unit of The NewsGuild.

While Local 51 provided “moral support” and the national union gave technical advice, he added, the Wisconsin Watch union organizing effort was driven internally and not conducted in concert with the Milwaukee local.



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F10%2F23%2Fwisconsin-watch-employees-seek-union-representation-for-nonprofit-newsroom%2F by Erik Gunn

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