BILLINGS – Most members of the news staff of The Billings Gazette newspaper have asked owner Lee Enterprises to voluntarily recognize their formation of a union, the Montana News Guild, a union backer said Friday.
Nineteen of 21 staffers who would be covered by the union signed a letter that was sent to the newspaper’s publisher, Gazette reporter Juliana Sukut said.
The staff has also submitted information to the National Labor Relations Board to seek a vote authorizing the union’s formation if Lee chooses not to recognize the union. Lee had not responded to the request for recognition by Friday morning, Sukut said.
Charles Ames, Lee’s director of corporate communications, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Newspapers have struggled nationally due to the loss of advertising revenue to online sites and newsroom employment has dropped by about half from 2008 and 2019, according to Pew Research.
The Gazette’s staff has mirrored that trend, dropping from 50 employees to 25 in the past 20 years, reporter Anna Paige said.
Page design has been outsourced, the editor and editorial page writer were recently laid off and starting in April all staff were required to take two weeks of unpaid furlough because of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus, Paige said.
Iowa-based Lee Enterprises owns four other newspapers in Montana — the Missoulian, the Independent Record, The Montana Standard and the Ravalli Republic.
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