After two years of bargaining, the San Francisco Chronicle Guild ratified its new contract Tuesday with 99 percent approval, winning its 145 members pay bumps, raise guarantees, and other benefits in “the best contract that the Chronicle’s union has had in at least a decade.”
That’s according to Dustin Gardiner, the Chronicle’s former state capitol reporter and a leader of the May walkout, when workers picketed the historic Chronicle building and pushed for the Hearst Corporation, which owns the newspaper, to be more respectful in contract negotiations.
That push led to the contract signed this week, which Chronicle and SFGate workers described as a reversal after years of losing benefits, wage guarantees and other benefits.
“We’re making progress and we’re regaining some of the things that we have lost in the past,” said Michael Cabanatuan, a veteran general news reporter at the Chronicle and union co-chair.
Cabanatuan, who has been involved in the past four contract negotiations, described a workforce that had lost pensions, parental leave guarantees, 401(k) matches, vacation time, and other work benefits.
“We went from having one of the best contracts in the country to having a contract that was severely lacking,” he said. “We kept fighting back. It took us several contracts, but we’re on our way back.”
Over the next four years, newsroom workers with the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate, which are both owned by Hearst and negotiated for the contract together, will earn a starting salary of $73,000, an 18 percent leap from the previous $62,000.
Cabanatuan, who is also a board member of the national News Guild journalists union that counts the Chronicle Guild as a member, said that, to his knowledge, a $73,000 a year’s minimum pay rate for a journalist is the highest minimum in the country.
About 15 to 20 percent of newsrooms’ workers, those currently earning below $73,000, will receive an immediate raise, according to Hunter Paniagua, union representative of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, a regional division of the News Guild that negotiated on behalf of both newsrooms.
The minimum salary will also increase to $82,000 for columnists, $85,000 for web developers, $90,000 for meteorologists, and $55,000 for about 20 non-newsroom staffers who work in circulation or advertising.
By 2025, those minimum salaries will increase by between $500 to $1,800 annually.
The contract also guarantees wage increases of 2 percent for workers who meet performance evaluations.
“It is a start, and it is better than what we were initially facing, where the company was really insisting on the potential of having zero raises in given years,” said Paniagua, calling the two-percent raise “pretty in line” with comparable papers “if people are even able to get raises, which, in a lot of newsrooms, isn’t happening.”
Still, the raise is below the 2.9 percent inflation rate for the San Francisco Bay Area for the past year.
The Pacific Media Workers Guild has won 2 percent raises for newspapers in the McClatchy chain, including the Sacramento Bee, the Fresno Bee, and the Modesto Bee. The guild is also negotiating 3 percent raises for some papers owned by Alden Global Capital, including the San Jose Mercury News, the East Bay Times and the Monterey Herald.
The 2 percent raise, Cabanatuan said, is “pretty decent” and may help with retention of talent. Gardiner, the former state capitol reporter who helped organize the union walkout, joined Politico in July partly for long-term stability.
“I am one of many examples of people who left the paper because we didn’t see a future,” he said. “We didn’t see a reasonable pay scale that would allow us to afford to stay at the Chronicle long term.”
Gardiner said that, when he worked in the newsroom, there was a saying among reporters: To get a decent raise, you had to get an outside offer.
“The casualty was, a lot of us ended up leaving,” he said.
“We’re hoping to prevent the Chronicle from becoming a stepping stone,” added Paniagua. “And we really do want it to be that place where you can come and finish your career, and be here for the long haul.”
The new contract also guaranteed a slew of other benefits: Eight weeks of parental leave for California-based employees, more predictable work schedules and a guarantee that union workers receive the same health benefits as non-union workers, among other changes.