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Bozeman Daily Chronicle seeks to unionize citing low pay amid rising housing prices

If successful, the Chronicle would become the second unionized newsroom in Montana
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Posted at 12:43 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 14:43:24-05

BOZEMAN - The publisher of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle denied the paper’s request on Tuesday to voluntarily recognize the formation of the Yellowstone News Guild, but the guild has submitted its paperwork to the National Labor Relations Board to set up a union election.

In a letter to publisher Mark Dobie, regional president for Adams Publishing Group, on Monday, Chronicle staff cited low pay amid rising housing costs, poor corporate management and insufficient benefits as motives behind the move, reports the Daily Montanan.

“Many parts of Bozeman are now unrecognizable to long-time residents, but the Chronicle is one institution that has remained a constant – at the very least as tinder for your wood stoves,” the letter read. “As reporters and photographers, we are passionate about living and reporting in Bozeman. But that is getting less and less feasible.”

The letter continued, “many of us are in tenuous housing situations and despite our professional goals know the housing market combined with low pay could force us out of Bozeman.”

The denial to voluntarily recognize the guild was largely expected, said Chronicle reporter and guild member Juliana Sukut. But she said she is confident the guild has the votes to form the union through the election process.

“Nine out of nine of our members have signed cards to petition the National Labor Relations Board for a union election. I think that clearly signaled our unanimous support for a union,” she said.

When reached by phone, Dobie said he could not comment on the situation. But in a letter to the guild, the publishing group said it denied the guild’s request because it believes “that employee sentiments and rights are best reflected and protected by having this determined in a secret ballot election.”

If the union’s organizing committee is ultimately successful, the Chronicle would become the second unionized newsroom in Montana along with the Billings Gazette, which was formed in 2020.

Sukut said specifics asks from the guild are not completely ironed out, but it plans on asking APG for higher wages, better benefits, a better paid-time-off policy and a clearer overtime policy.

The guild would represent the nine photographers and reporters on staff at the Chronicle and would be a unit of the Denver Newspaper Guild – Communication Workers of America Local 3707, which also represents the Montana News Guild, and the Cheyenne News Guild at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. And it would be the second Adams Publishing paper to unionize in the Mountain West following the formation of the Cheyenne News Guild in 2020, which is still undergoing negotiations for its first contract with Adams Publishing, according to a press release announcing the unionization efforts.

“Our pay and working conditions are simply not good enough. Unionizing will result in better conditions for us and, frankly, a better newspaper,” the letter to Dobie read. “We’ve chosen to unionize to advocate for our newsroom, to secure equitable raises that are in line with professional jobs in Bozeman, and fight for a future for our reporters and photographers who live and love southwest Montana.”

Homeownership and renting costs have significantly increased in Bozeman during the last year, but journalists at the Chronicle continue to make around $18 per hour, Sukut said.

And when the pandemic hit in 2020, the reporting staff was furloughed to working just 30 hours per week. At the time, they were told it would be temporary, but two years later, the staff is still only allotted 37.5 hours of hourly work per week, according to the letter.

“We don’t get paid overtime, and I would feel comfortable saying all of us work more than 37.5 hours per week or even 40 hours per week, and we don’t get paid for that,” Sukut said.

The Chronicle was founded in 1911. Today, the newsroom is comprised of nine reporters and photographers and three editors. The paper is published by Big Sky Publishing LLC and is owned by Adams Publishing Group. According to its website, the paper has a print circulation of about 15,000 and a total audience of more than 51,000.

Adams Publishing Group is a Minneapolis-based company that started in 2013 and owns around 200 “media-related products” in 20 states. The company did not respond to a request for comment on the Chronicle’s unionizing efforts. According to a 2017 Poynter article, the Adams family’s net worth is more than $1 billion.

Most of the ire surrounding the dismantling of newsrooms over the last decade has been directed toward larger companies like Gannett and Alden Global Capital, but Sukut said Adams Publishing Group should be among the companies known for its treatment of local newspapers.

Between 2004 and 2019, the U.S. lost 25% of its local newspapers including 70 daily newspapers and more than 2,000 weeklies or nondailies, according to a 2020 report from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And recent reporting on the publishing group reinforces Sukut’s claim.

The publishing group recently fired The Athens News editor after she published an article notifying readers that corporate-approved ads about a gold exchange company might be a scam. After the firing, nearly every journalist at The Athens News and The Athens Messenger (both in Ohio) quit in solidarity. Employees at the two papers told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the company “has not supported its employees and shown poor ethics.”

And all of the reporters at the APG-owned Klamath Falls Herald and News recently quit citing low pay and rising costs of living in the rural Oregon town.

“Adams Publishing Group flies under the radar … but they definitely do not have local news best interests at heart,” Sukut said.