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Wisconsin Watch becomes state’s newest unionized news outlet

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MADISON/MILWAUKEE — Employees of the investigative news outlet 

Wisconsin Watch were voluntarily recognized Friday (Nov. 3) by the nonprofit’s board of directors and chief executive officer as the newly formed Wisconsin Watch Union. 

That follows 80% of rank-and-file Wisconsin Watch journalists and administrative staffers signing union cards with The NewsGuild-CWA. The staff went public with the unionization effort on Oct. 23 after a monthslong organizing effort. 

“Newsrooms across the country are organizing to embrace a more democratic workplace in culture, spirit and deed,” the union said in an internal memo circulated with staff. “We look forward to doing our part in helping make Wisconsin Watch a stronger organization and an even better place to work.”

Management negotiated with the union to craft a recognition agreement so that they can get to work developing a contract that codifies and strengthens what already makes Wisconsin Watch an excellent place to practice journalism, as well as to build capacity for the nonprofit.

“We are so thrilled that we’ve been able to work constructively with management to help achieve voluntary recognition,” said Kiran Saini, audience director, a member of the union’s bargaining committee. “Now, we begin bargaining for a contract that will build a more stable and secure environment at Wisconsin Watch.”

The union’s mission statement closely aligns with Wisconsin Watch’s guiding principles, said investigative reporter Jacob Resneck. 

"Wisconsin Watch is about protecting the vulnerable and exploring solutions," Resneck said. "Organizing brings everyone to the table and gives them a voice to improve their workplace."

Wisconsin Watch CEO George Stanley — who previously served as editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — led negotiations on behalf of the award-winning news outlet’s management.

“We all want a workplace where people treat one another with respect, fairness and dignity,” Stanley said. “We all want to build a strong, sustainable newsroom that reports the stories that matter most -- reporting that improves lives and serves folks with the information they need to make decisions and stay in charge of our republic. That is what this voluntary recognition agreement reflects.”

The bargaining unit will be comprised of workers from both the editorial and business sides of the organization as a wall-to-wall union representing non-managerial employees. Other positions exempted by federal labor law will be excluded in accordance with the agreement signed Friday. 

Members of the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild recently voted unanimously to welcome the Wisconsin Watch Union into Local 34051, to share expanded administrative and logistical resources.

"We are proud to join forces with the dedicated staff of Wisconsin Watch as we all work for a brighter future of journalism in our state,” said Rory Linnane, president of the Milwaukee guild and a beat reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state’s largest newspaper. 

Wisconsin Watch is a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news outlet that seeks to foster an informed citizenry and strengthen democracy. Its successful union campaign comes amid an upsurge in successful organizing drives in newsrooms across the country. For example, workers at fellow nonprofit newsroom ProPublica won voluntary recognition in August.

Founded in 2009, Wisconsin Watch is a nationally recognized nonprofit newsroom that began as the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, founded by Andy and Dee Hall, a married couple of accomplished journalists who retired this summer