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Austin American-Statesman staff strike over low pay

People hold signs that say things like, "Journalists are worth more."
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
Austin American-Statesman staffers protest low wages on the Congress Avenue Bridge on Monday.

Members of the Austin American-Statesman’s labor union went on strike Monday because of an ongoing contract dispute with the newspaper's parent company, Gannett.

Nicole Villalpando, who covers health care for the Statesman and serves as the union's vice chair, said she and some of her other colleagues have to work other jobs.

“We have about a third of the newsroom who cannot afford to live in Austin,” Villalpando said. “They're having to get roommates. They're having to do things like DoorDash and working a second job. ... It's just been really, really tough to do the jobs that we love.”

Villalpando has been with the Statesman for 24 years. She said she makes $65,000 per year and that's "basically" the same amount she earned in 2010. She picked up a job as a Weight Watchers coach to help pay her daughter's medical bills.

“She was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis 10 years ago, and within the first five years, we were $120,000 in debt because the health care that [Gannett] was providing didn't cover a lot of out-of-pocket expenses," Villalpando said.

The Statesman is one of 18 newsrooms owned by Gannett that went on a one-day strike today.

The Statesman's labor union, the Austin NewsGuild, is asking for several additions to its contract, including pay parity, a 401(k) match, better benefits, regular raises and a wage floor of $60,000 per year. Because of low wages, the union said the Statesman has lost 60% of its staff since 2018.

The contract negotiations with Gannet have been tricky, union members said.

“We've been organized for two years and at the bargaining table faithfully a couple times a month, trying to get a contract, and Gannett keeps offering us worse than what we currently have," Villalpando said.

Other newsrooms owned by Gannett across the country are asking the company’s board to take a vote of no confidence against its CEO and president, Mike Reed.

Gannett did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter, with a focus on Travis County. Got a tip? Email her at hpanjwani@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @hayapanjw.
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