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DNAinfo and Gothamist Writers Hold Rally with WGA East, NYC Council Progressive Caucus and Labor Leaders to Condemn Joe Ricketts Over Local News Shutdown
NEW YORK, NY (November 6, 2017) – More than 300 people joined writers from DNAinfo and Gothamist, along with elected officials, the Writers Guild of America, East, SAG-AFTRA, 32BJ SEIU, the NYC Central Labor Council and other unions, at a rally at New York’s City Hall Park to fight for the unionized editorial employees at DNAinfo and Gothamist.
Last Thursday, the publications’ owner – right-wing billionaire Joe Ricketts – announced that he had shut down the popular local news sites and bragged that the employees were to blame for his decision because they exercised their right to unionize.
At the rally, the message sent from writers from DNAinfo and Gothamist was loud and clear: “Organize your shop. Don’t let the billionaires scare you.” Speaker after speaker eviscerated Ricketts for his union-busting actions and using his power to silence the important work local reporters do to hold people in power accountable.
The event was emceed by Writers Guild of America, East’s Executive Director Lowell Peterson, who fired up the rally by declaring “We come not to mourn, but to organize.” Speakers at the rally included DNAinfo writer Ben Fractenberg, Gothamist reporter Emma Whitford, Gizmodo Media Group’s Brendan O’Conner, SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris, 32BJ President Hector Figueroa, NYC Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, along with City Councilmembers Donovan Richards, Antonio Reynoso, Ben Kallos, Carlina Rivera, Jumaane Williams and Helen Rosenthal.
Lowell Peterson said, “Joe Ricketts needs to come clean. Did he violate the law by firing people because they exercised their right to unionize? Or did he decide the business wasn’t generating enough profit, and then try to score some ideological points by blaming his employees and their union? Either way, these journalists do work that is essential to communities across New York, and the WGAE will make sure their rights are protected and their voices are heard.”
SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said, “This closing of these news organizations is a travesty. SAG-AFTRA stands in solidarity with the Writers Guild of America-East and the extraordinary journalists of Gothamist and DNAist who are standing up for our federally protected right to collectively bargain. We are with you.”
“As the right to organize and a free press are constantly under attack across the nation, the last thing we need here in New York City is a billionaire taking a machete to these two rights that are critical to our democracy,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus. “Many communities have just been left without a local reporter shedding light on the neighborhood they know so well. The actions of Joe Ricketts must not be taken lightly and we must stand up to support the great work of these local reporters who dedicate their lives to keeping New Yorkers informed.”
“Local media is essential to an informed democracy, and this union-busting action by a billionaire Trump supporter is unacceptable,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus. “We stand today in solidarity with the writers who worked hard every day to make sure that New Yorkers were aware of what was happening in their neighborhoods. The absence of DNAInfo and Gothamist leaves a large hole in local media coverage that isn’t easily filled.”
“Whatever interest Mr. Ricketts may have possessed at one time in ‘supporting exceptional neighborhood storytelling,’ was laid waste to by his actions last week. That he shuttered these two publications exactly one week after their New York affiliate voted to be represented by the Writers Guild of America East in an effort to negotiate for fair labor standards is simply unconscionable. This furtherance of Mr. Ricketts’ declared union-busting agenda has upended the lives of more than 100 journalists from coast-to-coast. I stand with these professionals, DNAist Union and the Writers Guild of America East as they seek to redress the wrongs they have suffered for pursuing the job security we all desire,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, and member of the Progressive Caucus.
“The shutting down of DNAinfo and Gothamist is a clear example of what union busting looks like in 2017. It’s disappointing that when workers band together for deserved living wages and benefits this is how billionaire bankers react,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Vice-Chair of the Progressive Caucus. ”It is hard to imagine that somehow financial profits could not be drawn from these beloved publications and they had to be shut down when other hyperlocal media outlets have figured out how to be profitable.”
“The idea of any business closing because its workers have chosen to organize is an affront. It’s especially galling given how noble the work done by the writers and editors at DNA Info and Gothamist was. Local news reporting is not glamorous and it certainly isn’t lucrative. But it is noble because, at its heart, it is a public service. Local journalism is an attempt to keep New Yorkers informed about their own neighborhoods and to hold leaders of all levels accountable—-from the Mayor to the Council all the way down to the Community Board or police precinct. I want to express my outrage at the conduct of Joe Ricketts and my solidarity with the workers whose lives have been upended. I also want to stress that our society has a collective responsibility to ensure that all residents have access to quality news about their neighborhoods,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Vice-Chair of the Progressive Caucus.
“For years, the hardworking journalists of DNA Info and Gothamist covered neighborhood stories big and small, and shed light on some of the most important issues in our city. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we support a free and independent press that holds Elected Officials accountable and keeps the citizens of New York City in every neighborhood informed on the issues that matter. By shutting down these essential outlets of local journalism solely to retaliate against workers seeking to bargain collectively, billionaire Joe Ricketts has harmed our democracy to further line his pockets. I strongly condemn his actions, said Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, member of the Progressive Caucus.
“Local journalism is one of the pillars of our neighborhoods, a way of holding politicians, stakeholders, and others accountable for their actions,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, member of the Progressive Caucus. “A profession that over the years has become a passion for many, rather than a sustainable way of making a living. Joe Ricketts’ decision to shut down, without previous warning, DNA Info and Gothamist is despicable. Having in mind that it came days after the editorial team of both publications decided to unionize and fight for better contracts and working conditions. Mr. Ricketts’ actions shouldn’t become common practice, especially in Trump’s era, where facts are manipulated and the truth seems to have alternative versions. We stand with the reporters affected by this cowardly decision and will continue to advocate for local journalism.”
“That the phenomenal journalism of DNA Info and Gothamist was ended out of retaliation for unionizing is a tragedy that we thought belonged to another age,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, member of the Progressive Caucus. “We must stand in solidarity with all workers and especially those whose efforts bring greater transparency and accountability to government and give voice to the voiceless. Now more than ever, we need a strong and independent free press. I’d like to thank each and every member of the Gothamist and DNA Info teams for their work and their bravery in standing against corporate greed in the name of fairness.”
“Cowardice only begins to describe Mr. Rickett’s union-busting tactics,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, member of the Progressive Caucus. “This billionaire is being a bully, plain and simple. We must always fight for the rights of workers to unionize, and for others to think otherwise is shameful and disappointing.”
“The work of local news outlets and journalists are fundamental to the survival of our democracy, said Council Member Margaret Chin, member of the Progressive Caucus. “This is a shameful retaliation against workers’ right to organize. An attack on unions is an attack against our right to better livelihoods, and I stand in solidarity with DNAistUnion workers.”
“Mr. Ricketts’ actions shut down sources of excellent independent journalism, and risk the financial livelihoods of reporters who bring us the news every day. We stand firmly with the Writers Guild of America East, and with journalists and their families who have been attacked simply for show,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, member of the Progressive Caucus.
The shuttering of hyper-local news publications DNA Info and Gothamist by owner, Joe Ricketts, is a blow to community media. New York City needs local journalism to serve our diverse communities in ways mainstream media outlets do not. The abrupt shutdown gives every appearance of union busting because the employees of these valuable news publications very recently voted to organize as part of the Writers Guild. The employees of Mr. Rickett’s firm deserve to be treated with fairness and respect. They have performed admirable public service for many years, and the archives of their previous work should remain freely accessible,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, member of the Progressive Caucus.
“Shutting down Gothamist and DNAinfo is a huge loss, not only to the excellent team of reporters, editors, and more who worked for these publications but to all of us in the city who rely on them for dogged, dedicated local reporting,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams, member of the Progressive Caucus. “Clearly, Joe Ricketts has no respect for the Gothamist and DNAinfo teams, punishing them for voting to unionize by ending the publication. Ricketts is following in the model of Trump and his Republicans, busting unions and putting profit over people. This is not acceptable, and it’s past time for these staffs received the respect they deserve.”
“I condemn the actions of billionaire Joe Ricketts who, rather than take the time to listen to the hardworking employees who helped build his business, terminated their employment in retaliation for their vote to organize and speak as one,” said Council Member Debi Rose, member of the Progressive Caucus. “I support the employees in any redress they are seeking, and my hope is that they find employment with an employer who values their work and talent.”
“It was great courage on the behalf of the intrepid staff of DNAInfo & Gothamist to organize together. However, it’s an outrage that Joe Rickett couldn’t keep his union-busting, Trump-supporting interests from rearing its ugly head. Shutting down these two outlets wasn’t a business decision, it was an ideological one,” said Council Member Brad Lander, member of the Progressive Caucus. “We stand in solidarity behind these journalists – and hope that they continue to work to uphold an important part in our democracy since both of these local news outlets were well-loved because of the work they did to report on issues that impact and affect New Yorkers daily. Their loss not only hurts journalists, they hurt the communities they deserved. Shame on Joe Ricketts, joining the list of billionaires who can’t handle critique or opposition.”
“In a time when free speech, democracy, and workers’ rights are under attack, we must stand firmly on their side,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, member of the Progressive Caucus. “We see once again that, as we resist the national rhetoric of hate and disregard for our rights, we must stay vigilant at home in New York City. I will fight in solidarity with the writers and editors at DNA Info and Gothamist, and the Writers Guild of America against this unconscionable action to weaken their rights to negotiate better contracts and working conditions.”
“Joe Ricketts’ retaliation against DNAinfo and Gothamist reporters who chose to unionize cannot go unanswered, and I urge the National Labor Relations Board to investigate his union-busting conduct,” said Council Member Rory I. Lancman. “His selfish act deprives New Yorkers of two vital news outlets, and is a slap in the face to all working people. I’m proud to stand with DNAinfo and Gothamist employees in condemning these shameful actions.”
“It is outrageous that our city is losing DNAinfo and Gothamist’s dedicated reporting because a billionaire wanted to spite his employees for daring to unionize. Reporters provide an invaluable service, and they deserve the right to negotiate for fair wages and benefits. The reporters and staff of DNAinfo and Gothamist have dutifully covered the local issues that matter to our neighborhoods. Their work, like the crucial coverage of Hurricane Sandy recovery process by reporter Katie Honan, should be part of our city’s historic record. I stand with the workers of DNAinfo and Gothamist, and support their right to have their work archived,” said Council Member Mark Treyger.
ABOUT WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA, EAST
The Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO (WGAE) is a labor union representing writers in motion pictures, television, cable, digital media and broadcast news. The Guild negotiates and administers contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members; conducts programs, seminars and events on issues of interest to writers; and presents writers’ views to various bodies of government. For more information on the Writers Guild of America, East, visit wgaeast.org.