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Labor relations panel will hear complaint against Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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A Florida-based division of the National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing on a complaint against the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the paper’s leadership intimidated and threatened “reprisals” if newsroom employees voted to form a union.

The hearing is currently set for Aug. 21 in Tampa.

Last September, the newsroom staff of the Herald-Tribune, a GateHouse Media paper, voted to unionize under the NewsGuild-CWA by a vote of 22-16.

Among the allegations, the complaint said publisher Patrick Dorsey in August “created an impression among employees that their union activities were under surveillance.”

Later that month, former executive editor William Church “threatened employees with unspecified reprisals” if they tried to unionize, the complaint said.

And investigations team editor Michael Braga “threatened to blackball employees from the industry and end their career in print journalism,” it said.

Dorsey, in an email, said he and the paper’s management “disagree with all the assertions made by the union, which were issued without talking to the people involved to get all sides of the story.”

“As we have said from the beginning, we do not think the union is good for our employees, for our newspaper or for the communities we serve,” said Dorsey, previously publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat. “These unfair allegations continue to create turmoil at our newspaper and, unfortunately, hurt all employees as we have to spend precious resources to defend ourselves against untrue allegations and attempts to create an inflexible newsroom environment.

“We are working very hard to maintain a strong business and protect our journalism and we will continue to negotiate with our local employees to that end, despite the divisive actions of the national union.”

Two reporters also said they were demoted and reassigned to other beats because of their involvement with the effort to unionize the newsroom.

Elizabeth Johnson was one of the reporters, who has since left the paper, who said she was “removed from the paper’s investigative unit.”

“I hope the Herald-Tribune management learns from this experience, so that reporters and other newsroom staff don’t have to endure the work environment that I and some of the others experienced,” she said in a NewsGuild statement.

The news staff of The Ledger of Lakeland, another GateHouse paper, also voted to join the News Guild-CWA last year, by a vote of 22-3.

The Ledger and the Herald-Tribune were owned for decades by the New York Times Co., then were sold to Halifax Media in 2011, and again sold to GateHouse in 2015.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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