With unanimous support, Public News Service staffers win union recognition

Three weeks after going public with their union, 16 employees of Public News Service (PNS) won voluntary recognition from management May 24 and will begin contract negotiations as members of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild, TNG-CWA Local 37002.

“We’re thrilled that management [at Public News Service] has voluntarily recognized our union,” the Public News Service Union posted on Twitter. “We look forward to negotiating our first contract, and working with management to create a sustainable and equitable future for PNS.”

The nonprofit, member-supported news organization covers 37 states, providing content to over 10,000 media outlets. The new bargaining unit brings together journalists, editors, audio engineers, and outreach and membership specialists based in locations across the country.

Nadia Ramlagan, a producer from Louisville, Ky., said PNS’s far-flung newsroom complicated the organizing process when it began about a year ago. But it proved a satisfying challenge to overcome.

“We’ve all really forged these deep relationships with one another, despite working remotely,” Ramlagan said. “I feel like my work life has been enriched. No matter what happens with the bargaining process, it’s really been a game changer.”

Workers requested voluntary recognition of their union after a petition for representation drew unanimous support from eligible employees. By granting voluntary recognition, PNS bypassed the lengthy National Labor Relations Board election process.

“I respect and recognize PNS employees’ right to unionize,” PNS founder and CEO Lark Corbeil said in a public statement. “Journalists have a staggering responsibility, and every editorial decision is a choice. Together, we must continue to put forward a collective vision of a just and sustainable future, and journalists’ safety and well being is central to that mission.”

Guild members said their top priorities in bargaining a first contract with PNS will be equitable working conditions and a fairer pay scale. They also will look to negotiations as a way to improve the news outlet and ensure its future viability.

“This is a group of really passionate producers and journalists who all saw ways that we could make our workplace better,” Ramlagan said.

In the last decade, workers at over 200 media outlets have launched union drives, according to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Locally, workers at MinnPost won recognition of their union with the Guild a year ago, and Minnesota Public Radio News staff members organized with SAG-AFTRA in 2017.

Ramlagan said PNS employees “definitely see ourselves as part of that wave of newsroom, white-collar and nonprofit workers” seeking a voice on the job.

“I think we’re at a crossroads collectively where the state of journalism can run on a system of exploitation forever until it totally collapses, or we change our approach to our industry, so it continues to be viable and sustainable and to attract good people who are in the work for the right reasons,” she said.

Bargaining, like the organizing process, will be a learn-as-you-go experience for most members of the fledgling union. Ramlagan, who has been with PNS for over three years, admitted to “a very limited understanding” of what unions do until recently.

“Everybody seemed to be in the same boat as me in that the idea of having agency as an employee and having the power to change your workplace for the better hadn’t really occurred to me, individually,” she said. “We’ve had some producers who’ve worked for Public News Service for seven to 12 years and are the most supportive of this effort, but they hadn’t taken that action until now.”

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