News / March 19, 2018

Missoula Independent Staff File Papers to Form a Union

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The Missoula Independent Union’s logo.

The NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America would represent the union in collective bargaining

HELENA — The 10 non-management employees of the Missoula Independent today filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to begin the process of forming a union, the Missoula News Guild Organizing Committee announced via a press release issued late Monday afternoon.

Independent staff reporter and union organizing committee member Derek Brouwer said in an interview Monday that he started considering the possibility of forming a newsroom union last year, not long after the Indy was sold to the parent company of its biggest competitor, the Missoulian. 

Lee Newspapers, the media company that owns the Missoulian, Billings Gazette, Helena Independent Record, Montana Standard, and Ravalli Republic, purchased the Independent from longtime owner Matt Gibson in April 2017. The alternative newsweekly had been the Missoulian’s primary print news competitor prior to the sale. Some worried the sale could mean the eventual end of the Indy. 

Gibson became general manager of three Lee Enterprises newspaper properties, including the Missoulian and the Indy, in August 2017. He said at that time that he intended to preserve the “distinct character of the two papers.”

“Our audiences complement each other and our reach complements the value that we can deliver to the advertisers. So, having two different niches in the market is exactly what we want to attempt to do,” Gibson said in a August 2017 Missoulian article.

When reached at his desk Monday afternoon Gibson declined to comment on the Missoula Independent Union effort.

Independent editor Brad Tyer also declined to comment, referring questions to Gibson.

Brouwer said the union notified their direct supervisors of their intentions moments before the press release was sent out around 4:40 p.m. Monday.

Brouwer said the past year has been full of uncertainty about the future of the Indy and its staff.

“We’ve been anxious for the better part of a year about what this sale will mean for us professionally and organizationally, and the answers to those questions still aren’t clear,” Brouwer said. “I hope once we’re successful organizing we’ll be able to have our seat at the table and help determine the future of the paper.”

Brouwer said the uncertainty increased in February when Indy announced that it would be moving its offices from its current location on Orange Street to the Missoulian’s offices on South Higgins Avenue. That move is scheduled to take place starting April 1.
Brouwer said payroll and some management duties have already been merged between the two papers. Brouwer said he hopes a Missoula Independent Union will help preserve the alternative newsweekly’s newsroom as an institution. The Independent has been publishing since 1991.

“There are a lot of questions remaining about how the Indy will fit into the Lee Newspapers organization, to the company, and what the paper will look like over time,” Brouwer said. “Will the Indy remain what it has been, just under Lee Enterprises owners, or will it become something else? And if so, what does that something else look like? I want to have a say in that.”

Brouwer said the decision to organize the Indy, was not in reaction to any  editorial direction from Lee Enterprises or the Missoulian or pressure to change the tone or content of the paper.

“The Indy newsroom right now is the same Indy newsroom it was a year ago before it was sold,” Brouwer said. “The integrity of the Missoula Independent’s news gathering is absolutely still intact. I hope our union will ensure that it stays that way.”

Here’s the complete text of the press release. This story will be updated. 

Missoula Independent Staff Files for Union

Missoula, Mont. — The employees of the Missoula Independent filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board today to begin the process of forming a union, the Missoula News Guild Organizing Committee announced. Support for the filing was unanimous across the staff’s editorial, production and sales departments.
The Independent has published since 1991 and is the only alternative weekly newspaper in Montana. The publication serves a vibrant, engaged audience with coverage of local news, arts and culture. The staff takes pride in the Indy’s vital role in the western Montana media landscape, particularly its strong print product during a difficult time for weeklies in much larger markets.
Lee Enterprises, an Iowa-based corporation which owns the Missoulian, the Ravalli Republic, the Montana Standard (Butte), the Helena Independent Record, and the Billings Gazette, bought the Indy from publisher Matt Gibson last spring. In January, Indy staff were told the paper would be moving into the Missoulian building on Higgins Avenue in April, following a round of buyouts, layoffs and print frequency reductions that cut into other Lee-owned publications around the state. At that time, staff raised concerns about maintaining the Indy’s independence in the eyes of its readership and advertisers.
The organizing effort is motivated by the staff’s shared desire to maintain the trust and relationships they have built with readers and advertisers over the last 27 years. They encourage Lee Enterprises to respect their wishes and recognize The NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America as their representative for the purposes of collective bargaining.
“Lee Enterprises managers have made a point of telling us they consider the Indy a distinct product, and we’ve been assured that cuts aren’t imminent,” said staff reporter and organizing committee member Derek Brouwer. “But when it comes time to reconcile the bottom line, our new parent company’s primary responsibility is to its shareholders on Wall Street. Forming a union will enable us to have a voice in decisions about the Independent’s future and advocate for this community institution.”
Organizing committee members are proud to join the tradition of labor organizing efforts in Montana and the successful union formation last month at a Lee-owned paper in Wyoming, the Casper Star-Tribune. The staff of the Independent encourages their fellow newspaper workers around the state to join them in taking this step, which has given Independent staffers renewed optimism about their ability to continue doing the work they love.
— The organizing committee of the Missoula News Guild, which represents the 10 non-management employees at the Missoula Independent who work in the publication’s newsroom, sales and production departments. Follow us at Facebook.com/missoulanewsguild and @missoulanewsguild on Twitter.

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Tags:  Derek Brouwer Lee Enterprises Matt Gibson media Missoula Independent Missoulian news Unions

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John S. Adams
John S. Adams is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered Montana politics, government, and people for more than a decade. Prior to founding the Montana Free Press Adams was the statehouse bureau chief for the Great Falls Tribune and a correspondent for USA Today.






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