Missoula Independent takes steps toward unionization


The Missoula Independent started publishing in 1991 and was bought by Lee Enterprises last year.

The employees of the Missoula Independent have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to begin the process of forming a union, according to a press release sent Monday afternoon by the Missoula News Guild Organizing Committee.

Support for the filing was unanimous across the staff’s editorial, production and sales departments, the release stated.

The Independent has published since 1991 and was purchased by Lee Enterprises last year. The Iowa-based corporation owns the Missoulian, where the Independent is now based.

Both papers share the same general manager in Matt Gibson, the former publisher of the Independent. Gibson wasn’t immediately available Monday for comment.

“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.”

According to the release, the effort to organize was motivated by the staff’s desire to maintain the relationships they’ve built with readers and advertisers over the publication’s last 27 years.

The release said they’ve encouraged Lee Enterprises to respect their wishes and to recognize The NewsGuild Communication Workers of America as their representative for the purposes of collective bargaining.

While talk of unionizing has come up at the Missoulian before, past publishers frowned on the effort and no follow-through was ever made. Last month, however, members of the Lee-owned Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming successfully unionized.

After the Casper vote on Feb. 27, NewsGuild-CWA President Bernie Lunzer said on the union’s website that “Journalists are taking a stand across the country. We are fighting for quality journalism and a voice in our future.

“The media landscape is changing,” he continued. “Corporate owners are slashing staff and cutting resources as ad revenue shifts to Google and Facebook. But in this time of turmoil, quality journalism at the national and local level is more important than ever.”

In Missoula, the union press release also said that 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.”

This article originally appeared on Missoula Current, an independent online newspaper, of which Martin Kidston is the founding editor.

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