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First Montana newspaper union in modern history formed

Posted at 11:10 AM, Apr 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-09 13:10:38-04

MISSOULA – It’s been almost exactly a year since the Missoula Independent was bought by Lee Enterprises, the company that owns the Missoulian, the Ravalli Republic, the Billings Gazette and other newspapers across the state.

When Indy staff were informed they were to move in with the Missoulian – as well as be subject to buyouts and layoffs – they decided to form the Missoula News Union.

Non-management staffers at Missoula’s alternative weekly newspaper voted unanimously in favor of forming a union on Friday morning.

The Missoula News Guild said they are now looking forward to talks with management in order to reach a collective bargaining agreement with Lee Enterprises.

The new union members hope that through the guild they can discuss terms with Lee Enterprises, but publisher Matt Gibson made his thoughts abundantly clear in a recent letter.

Gibson, now the general manager of the Independent, said: “I understand their anxieties, and I respect their right to organize, but I think that the impulse is naive and extremely short sighted.”

The Missoula News Guild immediately issued a response on their website.

“Keeping the Indy around will require sacrifices. Gibson has made some, and so have we. We’re willing to make more. All we ask is to exercise our right to organize.”

Alex Sakaraissen, a reporter who has been with the Indy for nine years, said unionizing was a necessary step to maintain their independence.

“What prompted me to sign the petition and really be interested in organizing was to do everything that I could to ensure that the Independent maintains it’s independence, that as Lee makes changes that are necessary financially that we have a seat at the table to advocate on the behalf of our readers."

Independent staffers began the formal process of filing to form a union with the National Labor Relations Board in mid-March. Sakaraissen said the guild is looking forward to negotiating with Lee in the near future.

The Missoula Independent News Guild is the first Montana newspaper in modern history to form a union. The Casper Star-Tribune of Casper, Wyoming is the only other Lee-owned newspaper to form a union.

Employees at Lee Enterprise’s flagship newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, are also represented by a union which was in place before the company bought the former Pulitzer papers.