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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Last fall, Janneke Parrish was pushing hard in her advocacy at Apple. She wanted to see flexibility with remote work, pay equity and for Apple to respond to Texas’ six-week abortion ban with paid time off and coverage for the procedure under the company’s health insurance plan.
Then, in October last year, she was fired.
Parrish, who lives in Round Rock and worked at Apple’s Austin campus as an Apple Maps program manager for about five years, is a leader of an internal movement at the tech giant. It comes at a time when the company is expanding its local presence with a new $1 billion Northwest campus with space for 5,000 employees.
Parrish worked at this Apple campus on West Parmer Lane. (Steven Joyner)
In August, the movement known as #AppleToo launched a website with the goal of organizing employees and sharing stories about alleged workplace harassment and discrimination. Austonia talked to Parrish and another former Apple employee who are part of the movement about their claims in what they observed while working for Apple.
“I’ve been advocating for members of my immediate team within Apple for several years,” Parrish said. “And when I realized that the issues that I was seeing with my own team were true throughout Apple, there was a natural transition toward, ok let’s expand this advocacy and instead be more of an advocate for everybody at Apple to ensure that we the workers at Apple are treated fairly and equitably and get treated as human beings.”
In the lead-up to her firing, Parrish faced an allegation that she had leaked details from a recent all-hands meeting to the Verge. She says she suspects it’s this, along with her advocacy, that influenced Apple’s decision to fire her.
“I didn’t do (the leak). And I know that Apple knows I didn’t do this,” Parrish said since a few employees including herself didn’t have access to that meeting due to a system crash that day. “I was still placed under investigation.”
As a requirement of the investigation, Parrish turned in her work devices. Before doing so, she wiped the files from her computer, saying she didn’t want her personal files on Apple servers. After a few days on paid suspension, she says human resources called and told her she’d been terminated with the reason being that she’d deleted those files.
Parrish is one of the leaders of the AppleToo movement. (Janneke Parrish)
Before Parrish’s firing, Apple was taking action on leaks and workplace organizing. An internal memo from 2018 noted a number of leakers they had caught were arrested. About a month before Parrish was fired, the tech giant had fired a senior engineering program manager for allegedly leaking confidential information. And in a September note, CEO Tim Cook sent a note to all Apple employees saying “people who leak confidential information do not belong” at Apple.
Austonia asked Apple about Parrish’s case and other matters at the company. In an email reply, the company said:
“We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters.”
Another piece of Parrish’s advocacy involved career opportunities for workers, particularly those based in Austin.
Even though Apple upped their presence in Austin in recent years, Parrish said Austin-area employees couldn’t enjoy networking opportunities like California workers did as Apple events were held on the West Coast. Texan Apple workers shouldn’t have to relocate to move up, she said.
“For those of us in Austin, I noticed, especially for my department, my career options were extremely limited,” Parrish said. “I was told by a manager that if I really wanted to advance in my career, I would have to move out to California.”
Parrish said Apple employees in Austin do not have the same career opportunities as those in California. (Shutterstock)
Austonia spoke to another member of the organizing group AppleToo. She requested anonymity to not hinder future job prospects in the tech industry. She’ll be identified with the pseudonym Mary.
Mary said she’s worked at Apple since 2008 in Austin, starting off as a contractor in customer support at iTunes and moving around over the years, leaving the tech giant earlier this month.
“It’s too hard to advance and there are no opportunities for development so (I was) just kind of stuck in a dead-end job,” Mary said.
Mary felt that another challenge was being a woman at a tech company. Starting out, she says she was the lowest paid in a training class of mostly men with pay of around $30,000, which rose to about $55,000 by the time she left.
But aside from pay, communication also proved to be a hurdle. To make her persona appear gender-neutral, she changed how her name was displayed on Slack, the interoffice directory and over email to just her first initial.
“The hard part was when I would have to get into a meeting with people then I felt like my voice is giving me away now,” Mary said. “But when I could avoid having meetings, I felt like it did make a difference.”
Mary says there’s been some movement in the right direction. An internal memo in November affirmed employees’ right to discuss pay after it had shut down employee-run pay equity surveys and an employee-run Slack channel. Earlier this month, it announced new efforts in a racial equity and justice initiative.
“We all want to see positive changes from Apple,” Mary said. “We all want them to look at wage disparities. We’d like to see more diversity—more minorities in leadership positions, more females in leadership positions.”
Still, Mary feels there’s more to be done. “I wish Apple was more responsive at making bigger changes,” she said.
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The Texas French Bread Bakery, located on 2900 Rio Grande Street, has been completely destroyed after a fire erupted on Monday night.
The Austin Fire Department responded to the fire just before 11 p.m., where they arrived to see flames coming from the roof of the bakery. Firefighters fought the fire for about an hour before the roof collapsed.
While no one was injured in the fire, firefighters say the historic building was completely totaled.
Texas French Bread just went up in flames pic.twitter.com/agXqKN3c00
— Jordan (@AimIessFriend) January 25, 2022
AFD determined that the fire was accidental and caused by mechanical failure. AFD said the damages amounted to $1.6 million total: $1.1 million in structural damage and $500,000 in damage to the contents of the bakery.
This year, Texas French Bread will celebrate 40 years of business. Before the bakery occupied the building, it was the Rome Inn, a music venue that hosted 1970s artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan.