Missoula Independent staffers look to unionize under Missoulian ownership

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 encourage 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 upon the effort and no follow-through was ever made. Last month, however, members of the Lee-owned Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming successfully unionized.

“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 release stated.