The unionized newsroom at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram began an open-ended strike Monday. By 3 p.m., parent company McClatchy had locked reporters out of their emails and laptops and declared them ineligible for healthcare benefits by taking an “unpaid leave.” The company also began listing those workers’ jobs.
The Fort Worth NewsGuild voted in favor of the strike after two years of negotiations failed to convince McClatchy to move its base wage from $45,000 to $57,000, what the union said was a livable wage in Tarrant County. To anyone’s knowledge, it’s the first open-ended strike at a newspaper in Texas, which is a right-to-work state.
In an email obtained by D Magazine, Executive Editor Steve Coffman told employees that the company will “respect each employee’s individual decision” when it comes to the strike, and added that “employees also have a legally protected right to not engage in strike activity.”
Coffman said that the paper’s offices remain open but that the paper would also begin looking for journalists to continue producing the daily publication.
“We have plans in place to ensure that our readers can continue to count on us,” he said. “To prioritize our readers and their needs, we are recruiting journalists to ensure that we continue to provide full coverage of local news in Tarrant County and North Texas. Those jobs will be posted today.”
In a second email, McClatchy Head of People Chris Klyse informed employees that those on strike would be considered inactive employees.
“Under the rules of our benefits plan, an employee in an inactive status (i.e. unpaid leave) will no longer be eligible to participate in the healthcare plan effective at the end of the calendar month in which the unpaid leave begins,” the email reads. “For example, an employee who begins unpaid leave Nov. 28, 2022, will see their healthcare insurance lapse at the end of the day on Nov. 30, 2022.”
Roughly 45 minutes before those emails were sent to employees, Coffman told D that the company would continue to bargain with the newsroom’s union.
“The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is serving our communities, covering the news that matters to Tarrant County and North Texas,” he said in a statement. “We continue to bargain in good faith and look forward to reaching an agreement.”
Kaley Johnson, the unit chair for the Fort Worth NewsGuild, said that the decision won’t change the resolve of the 20-plus workers that are striking. Around 90 percent of the Fort Worth NewsGuild voted to strike.
“The company has opted to revoke our benefits and post our jobs online to try and encourage others to cross the picket line,” she said. “The Fort Worth NewsGuild is dedicated to fair conditions for Star-Telegram employees. No amount of union busting will change that. McClatchy can take away our benefits but not our fight. McClatchy can post our jobs and try to replace local coverage, but our community knows better—they deserve a dedicated local staff. We are not backing down and expect McClatchy will meet us at the table this week.”