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Briefings: After Rough Five Years, Courant Guild Employees Have a Contract…

Staff no longer work here, but they do have a contract at last. (via Google Street View)

After years of stuff reductions, farming out of printing to Springfield, and closure of its physical newsroom, staff at the Hartford Courant have received some good news of their own. Alongside union staff at seven other Tribune publications, the Courant Guild secured a contract with Tribune’s owner, Alden Global Capital, that will guarantee raises and retirement benefits. The unions ratified it last month.

Alden has long been a boogeyman in journalism circles for buying and downsizing newspapers. In 2021, staff at the Courant and at other papers tried to rally against Alden’s purchase of Tribune. However, conditions for staff at Tribune’s papers like the Courant were already poor before the sale. Newsroom staffers at the Courant voted to join a unit of the NewsGuild five years ago.

“We voted in February 2019 to have a union in the newsroom after devastating cuts and dwindling staff were raising questions about the future of the Hartford Courant,” Lori Riley, a co-chair of the Hartford Courant Guild, said in an email. “Five years later, we ratified our first union contract.”

The five-year pact includes two 3 precent raises in its first two-year years. Riley also highlighted that the company agreed to continue providing a match for employees already enrolled in the 401k plan.

The Courant is considered the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States. Consequently, its history in Connecticut runs deep. As the paper operates under a state charter, legislators even proposed allowing suits to bar Alden from looting the paper ahead of Alden’s purchase of Tribune.

Even under Tribune, the Courant had faced setbacks that led staff to question the company’s stewardship of what had been Connecticut’s largest newspaper. Its staff had shrunk from hundreds to less than a hundred. The pandemic dispersed the staff from the paper’s Broad Street facility in Hartford, in the shadow of the Connecticut State Capitol. They would never return.

Later that year, Tribune shut down the Courant’s printing plant in Hartford. They began printing out of state, first at The Republican in Springfield. The paper vacated its office entirely a few weeks later. Dozens of staff rallied against the sale, hopeful the Courant might find a local owner.

Courant Guild Rally May 2021

The Courant Guild protesting Alden’s purchase in 2021 (WMP&I)

Alden won out. For many staff, the sale of Tribune to Alden was the denouement. Before Tribune, Alden had owned papers from The Denver Post to the (San Jose) Mercury News to the Boston Herald. All had endured waves of cuts that undermined coverage and often exceeded what many peer publications had done.

After Alden took over, the Courant lost many longtime staff. Several went to CT Insider, an umbrella newsroom that serves Connecticut newspaper brands that Hearst Communications owns.

The contract will come as a relief to many Courant employees as well as those for other former Tribune publications such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Morning Call in Allentown.

In addition to raises, employees will receive several benefits and job protections. Among the job security items are just cause termination rules, arbitration, notice and recall rights for layoffs, and byline rights. On the benefit side, workers will receive paid time off, severance pay, and vacation time flexibility.

“We could not have accomplished what we did without our joint bargaining committee, which had over 60 people involved over five years from various Tribune units,” Riley emailed. “As someone who has worked at the Courant for 35 years, I’m proud of the fact that we were able to realize this goal and we plan to continue to produce high quality journalism as we have done for over 200 years.”

Tribune and Alden could not be immediately reached for comment.

The contract may or may not signal that Alden is holstering its carving knife. However, the labor peace of the agreement may help shift attention away from the company. Indeed, in recent years, it may not be quite the villain it once was.

Rather, Gannett, the owner of large publications like USA Today and the Detroit Free Press, has taken on the Scrooge role, especially in New England. In Massachusetts, it owns several daily and weekly community newspapers. Many have closed and other carry barely any local material at all. However, Gannett has insisted in recent months it, too, has turned a corner.