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Journalists at the Austin American-Statesman and its six community newspapers won the right Wednesday to negotiate for a union contract.
The National Labor Relations Board in Fort Worth tallied the results of a newsroom election, in which 36 employees voted in favor of union representation and 12 voted against. The NLRB still must formally certify the election.
"We're excited to move forward with a voice in our future and to continue to #KeepAustinInformed," the Austin NewsGuild tweeted in response to the election results, which were delayed due to the winter storm last week.
Unofficial result is 36-12. The @statesman is now a union paper.
— Phil Jankowski 🦇 (@PhilJankowski) February 24, 2021
The Austin NewsGuild announced in early December that they were taking steps to unionize, including submitting the required paperwork to the NLRB to request a union certification election at the Statesman. A secret-ballot mail election is only necessary when newsroom management declines to recognize the union voluntarily, as was the case with Gannett, the Statesman's parent company.
"We respect the decision by our colleagues," Statesman Editor Manny Garcia said in a statement Wednesday. "We will continue to focus on our public service mission to serve our growing community."
The NewsGuild cited a need for stability in "an increasingly unstable industry, one plagued by budget cuts, layoffs, a lack of diversity and dwindling resources," according to a Jan. 9 news release. Its members pledged to advocate for increased staff positions, improved benefits, increased safety gear and anti-racist policies. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the NewsGuild's diversity committee sent a letter to management demanding a plan to revive the Spanish-langauge newspaper ¡Ahora Si!, diversify hiring and require implicit bias training, among other changes.
NewsGuild members join journalists others across the country that have unionized newsrooms in recent years, including at the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Arizona Republic.
The Dallas Morning News Staff voted to unionize in October, becoming the first newspaper in Texas to do so. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff announced it had unionized shortly after.
Like many of these papers, the Statesman has faced years of downsizing, hiring freezes and, most recently, furloughs during the pandemic. It has also endured a series of corporate handoffs—three in as many years.
Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises sold the Statesman to the New York-based publishing company GateHouse Media in 2018, after 41 years of ownership. In late 2019, GateHouse closed its $1.1 billion takeover of Gannett, becoming the country's largest newspaper company, and pledged to cut costs. (The company now goes by Gannett.)
Gannett laid off seven Statesman staffers, including veteran sportswriter Suzanne Halliburton and culture critic Joe Gross, in April. Three months later, the company signed a lease at MetCenter, a corporate business park that the Statesman will move into next year. Its recognizable riverfront headquarters will be redeveloped. Last October, the company reportedly offered employees voluntary buyouts. Then, in January, Executive Editor John Bridges announced his retirement after 32 years with the Statesman last month. He was succeeded by Garcia, who previously worked at ProPublica.
According to the NewsGuild, more than 50 journalists have left the Statesman voluntarily or because of buyouts and layoffs over the last two years, representing a 40% reduction in newsroom staff.
5/ We're not naive about the reality of our industry & know a union can't stop the shrinkage. But it can help protect our remaining staff & give us a voice in decisions about the future.
It will give our reporters an opportunity to fight for our readers & the coverage they need.
— Austin NewsGuild (@AustinNewsGuild) December 16, 2020
Dr. Victor Pickard, a professor of media policy and political economy at the University of Pennsylvania, told Austonia in December that this push toward organizing is "a rare glimmer of hope in this really dismal landscape."
Unions at legacy media companies, such as the Statesman, may help counterbalance publishers' singular focus on profit, which often comes at the expense of jobs. But unions alone won't insulate newspapers from a rapidly changing industry. Instead, Pickard said existing newsrooms need to transition to new business models—like the nonprofit Texas Tribune or low-profit Philadelphia Inquirer—that help lessen commercial pressures.
"If we don't do anything the market will just drive journalism into the ground," he said.
This story has been updated to include a response from Statesman Editor Manny Garcia.
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With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone where a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
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Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
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Austin City Limits fest and iHeartRadio Fest are the latest festivals to announce the removal of rapper DaBaby, who has come under fire for homophobic comments made during a recent festival.
The 29-year-old rapper, whose real name is Jonathan Lyndale Kirk, was dropped by Lollapalooza just hours before his set on Sunday, followed by the Governor's Ball in New York and Nevada's Day N Vegas after making unsolicited comments about men with HIV/AIDS at the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami. Rolling Stone Magazine confirmed with iHeartRadio organizers that DaBaby will no longer perform.
DaBaby will no longer be performing at Austin City Limits Music Festival — lineup update coming soon. pic.twitter.com/jAYfdJFxJf
— ACL Festival (@aclfestival) August 3, 2021
There is no word on who he will be replaced with yet, though rumors on ACL's subreddit, r/aclfestival, are saying they expect Tyler, The Creator, who performed at Lollapalooza. Kirk will be replaced at Day N Vegas by rapper Roddy Ricch.
Kirk later backtracked his offensive statements on his Instagram story, but again faced criticism for not exactly apologizing.
After facing a second round of backlash for his Instagram statements, the rapper posted on Instagram, saying:
In addition to being dropped from the festivals, DaBaby has been denounced by fellow celebrities like Dua Lipa, Madonna and Elton John.
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