Keenan Award: Honoring Those Who Serve

Thomas F. Keenan
Thomas M. Keenan

Each year, the Guild recognizes a member who has done the most for the union and its members by bestowing the Thomas M. Keenan NewsGuild of New York Service Award on a longstanding Guild member. 

Any Guild member in good standing can nominate any other member for the award. The winner is chosen by the New York Guild’s Administrative Committee, which consists of the president, secretary-treasurer, local chairperson and the Local’s three vice presidents.

In determining the award winner, the committee must find that a nominee “performed above and beyond in service to the New York Local, and best exemplifies the ideals of a true labor leader in the spirit of Tom Keenan.”

The annual award was established in 1999 to honor Tom Keenan, the longest-serving New York Times unit chair. Keenan was elected to seven terms as Times unit chair, holding that office longer than any other person before joining the Guild’s staff as a Local representative in 1998. He died in December 2000 after a battle with cancer. Since the award was established, there have been 29 recipients.

2021 Keenan Award Winner: Helen Verongos

The 2021 Keenan Award winner is Helen Verongos.

Helen Verongos works at The New York Times and is first vice chair of the Times Guild, led by Bill Baker. 

A Unit Council member and steward for late-shift workers, she is on the contract bargaining team and the grievance and health and safety committees as well as the Guild working group behind our diversity proposal, a cause she embraces to the fullest degree.

 Her favorite projects include, from the last century, making endless stickers bearing the words: “3 Percent Is Not Enough.” She worked on pay equity in the “Don’t Leave Money on the Table” campaign and makes it a priority to remind colleagues to assert their value, both intrinsically and on their timesheets. She also joined a small delegation that sat down with management to sketch out alternatives to slashing copy editors from The Times by illustrating the ways their skills could enrich other parts of the company.

A goal close to her heart, and one that members ask her about frequently, is what the union is willing to do to celebrate, protect and make the most of the many strengths of our sage and seasoned coworkers, especially the women, whose numbers have plummeted over five years in the news and business side. It might be time to form that Alte Kaker committee one member proposed.

In addition to more exciting pursuits like skulking around the building after hours, Verongos has used her writing and editing background on Guild minutes, shop papers and projects for the unit and local.

Currently an editor on the Culture Desk who makes frequent cameos on the coronavirus live briefings, Verongos has worked on the International Desk, the Book Review, and the historic Continuous News Desk.

For fun, she enjoys solving and (haltingly) constructing crosswords; trying to keep the groundhogs out of the garden; and indulging in the Learned League, a trivia mega-hive she heard about from her union siblings. Her CV is below.

First job: Writing youth news after school at the Mishawaka (Indiana) Enterprise-Record, and selling subscriptions to the weekly paper at the local Kroger store, $10/week.

Only job lost (so far): Reporter, Indiana Daily Student, Bloomington, $10/week.

Best rebound job: Indiana University News Bureau, science writer with beat that included the Kinsey Institute. More than $10/week.

Job with best benefits (beer vending machine on premises): Stars & Stripes, Tokyo, civilian copy editor.

Job with worst benefits (but lots of friends): Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss., arts reporter and reviewer.

Job with most parties: Hartford Courant, backfield editor.

Proudest moments: Becoming a parent in China in 2004, 2007 and 2010.

Favorite labor movie: “The Devil and* Miss Jones,” 1941, about union organizers at a Manhattan department store and the boss who goes undercover intending to root them out.

Favorite look at unions today: “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor” by Steven Greenhouse.

*Not in, but and.