Missoula Independent makes counteroffer to Lee Enterprises as talks continue

Ariel LaVenture, a member of the Missoula Independent’s bargaining committee, described the negotiations with Lee Enterprises as amicable, though uncertainty lingers. (Missoula Current)

The Missoula Independent’s labor union made a counter offer to Lee Enterprises last week in a move aimed at protecting the alt-weekly’s staff and keeping the paper in production.

Ariel LaVenture, a member of the Indy’s bargaining committee, described the negotiations as amicable, though uncertainty lingers.

Lee also owns the Missoulian.

“As Missoula News Guild, we presented our counter-proposal to them,” LaVenture said Monday. “They said they needed some time to go back to the powers that be to see if it’s doable, to see if it’s viable. Right now, we’re essentially waiting, but that doesn’t mean we’re not acting.”

At one point this spring, the Indy was to vacate its office on Orange Street and move in with the Missoulian as a cost-cutting move. That never took place, though LaVenture said it remains an option.

“We believe there’s a way to maintain the Independent and keep all its current staff,” said LaVenture. “We negotiated the idea that we’re willing to compromise on things such as relocating. In the past, there was talk of moving the Independent into the Missoulian building. In our heads, that’s not completely off the table.”

Members of the guild, which organized in March, said earlier bargaining sessions with Lee Enterprises resulted in two options, either lay off two-thirds of the Indy’s staff or close the paper.

That prompted the Indy’s union to launch a public campaign in hopes of drumming up public support to influence Lee’s decision.

“Negotiations with Lee have been really positive and pleasant and civil,” LaVenture said. “We hope they took everything with an open mind. They did not give us a timeframe, but we’re really good at waiting.”

According to the guild, Lee Enterprises has said it’s not convinced that Missoula can support the Indy. The paper is losing money, union members have said, though they believe there are other options to strengthen the product.

The Indy has proposed a cross-selling agreement between the Indy and the Missoulian sales teams, and to identify financial targets the paper must meet, along with a time period.

Doing so, the guild believes, would provide a framework to bring the publication into the black.

“We’ve seen the finances under a non-disclosure agreement,” bargaining committee member Derek Brouwer said. “Especially after the deep cuts already made to staff in recent months, we believe the paper is close to turning a profit. Getting there will take mutual commitment and compromise.

“We need to show Lee’s out-of-state decision makers that giving up simply because staff unionized would be a mistake.”