Samantha Smylie

Candidate for Council, Online Media Sector

I’m Samantha Smylie, a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago and a union representative for the Chalkbeat Guild. I come from a union family in Chicago, IL. My grandfathers, parents, and many in my extended family were, and currently are, part of a union that represents public transportation workers. I have seen first-hand how union representatives supported my mother when her hand was injured on the job when I was a preteen. The union helped resolve conflicts between my mom and her managers. She has been at her job for over 30 years, and she attributes her longevity to her union. Simply put: Unions shield workers against cruel bosses and corporate greed.

When my colleagues began organizing the Chalkbeat Guild in 2020, I knew I had to join in. I was nominated to be on our bargaining team and we successfully bargained our first contract in 2021.

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic isolated so many of us from friends, family, and colleagues, unionizing helped me feel connected to people. While on the bargaining team, I got to know my colleagues and their needs and helped create policies to improve our workplace.

Chalkbeat Guild’s first contract secured several wins for staff. For instance, our pay floor starts at $58,000, we have a parental leave policy with 14 weeks off for parents, 3.5% annual raises, and a strong severance package — just to name a few. As the bargaining team fought hard in contract negotiations, our colleagues supported us by providing testimony in front of management regarding parental leave, paid time off, salaries, and diversity in the workplace.

I am thankful we organized with WGAE. Media organizations before us set the bar high for what we could achieve. Throughout our negotiations, we reviewed other shops’ contracts to garner ideas and inspiration for policies that could work for Chalkbeat. The support from WGAE shops, which circulated our social media posts, made a difference.

After the Chalkbeat Guild’s contract negotiations ended, I continue to work with my colleagues to enforce our contract as a union representation. I am active in WGAE’s Industry-wide Organizing Committee where I get to learn about other shops’ contract negotiations and ask for advice. I am excited to work with so many peers across the union who are determined to have a strong union that works for everyone.

But, as a Black person, I cannot look past instances when unions did not support their most marginalized workers in US labor history. Right now, we must uplift and center the needs of People of Color, LGBTQ+ folks, people who are disabled, people who are neurodiverse, folks from low-income households, and immigrants. While I have only had a few years in journalism, I have already seen a quick turnover of marginalized journalists in newsrooms — many of whom have been pushed out of the industry. Additionally, Artificial Intelligence is being tested in newsrooms across the industry. Leadership in media organizations are hopping on to this trend without talking to workers or considering the consequences it might have on their employees.

Regardless of whether I am elected, I will continue to center the voices of marginalized workers to ensure that our workplaces work for us and not against us.

I am endorsed by fellow council candidates David Lumb and Sie Morley.