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Journalists strike after staff cuts

Everett Herald's owner lops 12 of 23 newsroom positions

Everett Herald newsroom union members staged a one-day strike and picketed with dozens of supporters through downtown Everett on Monday to protest the newspaper owner's decision to eliminate 12 of its 23 reporters and editors, and then deleting its own coverage of the news.

Citing Carpenter Media Group's failure to respond to contract bargaining requests and meet other demands, the Everett NewsGuild announced an indefinite extension of their strike in a press release the Guild issued Tuesday morning. NewsGuild members picketed in front of The Herald's offices Monday and Tuesday.

"Carpenter won't give us a bargaining date and still wants to have layoffs effective July 1," Everett NewsGuild member and reporter Aina deLapparent Alvarez said. "This is heartbreaking because we all miss reporting so much and we'll have to cancel planned coverage, but they've shown no signs of wanting to negotiate so we must keep striking."

Carpenter Media Group of Mississippi purchased the Herald in March with other Sound Publishing newspapers. June 19, it announced its intention to lay off a quarter of Sound employees. At The Herald, 12 of its 23 newsroom employees were laid off, 10 of them NewsGuild members.

The NewsGuild is also protesting the company's secretive use of a quota system in the layoff process that judged journalists not on the quality of their work, but on their story and page view counts.

The Everett NewsGuild formed in 2022. It has been in negotiations for a first contract with company owners since March 2023. Under federal labor law, Carpenter Media Group cannot implement its proposed layoffs without negotiating the terms and effects with the union.

A gofundme.com page, Everett NewsGuild Strike Fund, had raised $13,353 through 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"What gives me hope is seeing how much support we've received from our readers," Herald reporter Maya Tizon said. "They clearly love and care for this community as much as we do, and they see how the Herald's journalism benefits their community."

When local news editor Caleb Hutton got word he wouldn't have a job for long, he follo wed his instinct.

"My first reaction, cover it as a news story," Hutton said.

He assigned the story to veteran reporters Andrea Brown and Janice Podsada. They explained what happened and named those who lost their jobs. They said that Carpenter Media Group executives would only cite "operating principles" to justify the layoffs. Herald Publisher Rudi Alcott told employees their jobs had been eliminated due to organizational "restructuring," and "Moving forward, operations are not going to change much. The readers won't notice."

The story was posted on heraldnet.com at 5:29 p.m. June 19. A few hours later, it was gone.

The Everett NewsGuild said Alcott removed the article from the website, calling it a "hit piece." Editors and staff threatened to offer their immediate resignation if the story remained offline by the end of day Thursday, June 20.

Herald staff updated the article, leaving Alcott's quote and adding Carpenter Media Group's perspective to say the layoffs were "part of a larger plan to improve the economics of the newspaper and better serve the community."

"It was just really disappointing to see a move like this from a newspaper," NewsGuild member Sophia Gates told KUOW News reporter Scott Greenstone. "This is what we do. We often publish stories that are unpopular, and it's difficult to imagine a scenario where we would take a story down because someone in the story didn't like how they were portrayed."

Rep. Rick Larsen, who represents the Everett area in Congress, joined the striking workers Monday. He was also among many on social media who begged to differ with Alcott and Carpenter Media Group.

"The public won't notice?" Larsen wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Everyone has already noticed the physical cutback of the paper. Will definitely notice the reduced coverage @EverettHerald. Aren't carpenters supposed to build?"

Pleasant Ridge resident Jon Bauer, The Herald's editorial page editor, joined his colleagues on the street Monday. He carried a picket sign and joined the chants: "Union busting is disgusting" and "Low wages, no pages."

The NewsGuild has sought living wages for Herald journalists in contract discussions. A single adult with no children must make at least $29.59 an hour to afford to live in Snohomish County, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator.

On May 1, Carpenter Media Group provided the NewsGuild with a starting wage proposal of $19.50 per hour but has not responded to the NewsGuild's requests for additional contract negotiations.

For the NewsGuild members on the picket line, the damage is already done.

"The layoffs have damaged morale and we can't recover the lost trust in management," Gates said.

Sports reporter Taras McCurdie said it was always his dream to work at The Herald, the paper he grew up reading, even as he saw it "shrink and shrink" over the last 22 years his family has subscribed. He doesn't see how The Herald can produce the same product with half the staff, as Carpenter claims it will do.

"I'm just here to write and give information to the community," he said.

de Lapparent Alvarez moved to Everett from Massachusetts seven months ago. Her spouse's family have been avid Herald readers. She hired in at $18 an hour, but the lack of a daily story quota offset the low pay.

She said Carpenter based its layoffs on seniority and story count.

"Now it's an arbitrary number," de Lapparent Alvarez said. "They changed our working conditions without telling us or allowing us to understand. And to be let go without so much as a thank you."

Late Tuesday, Carpenter Media agreed to meet from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday for contract talks with the Everett NewsGuild.

 

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