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Montana News Guild Finalizes First Contract With Billings Gazette Owner

Billings Gazette employees stand outside their office well spaced and wearing masks and matching t-shirts.
Photo by Brooke Moore
Members of the Montana News Guild stand outside The Billings Gazette newsroom on Oct. 1, 2020.

The Montana News Guild, which represents staff from the Billings Gazette, finalized its first contract with newspaper owner Lee Enterprises on Nov. 1.

As newspaper staffs across the state shrink, the Montana News Guild, the only newspaper union in Montana, ratified a one year contract with Lee Enterprises Nov. 1.

Victor Flores, sports reporter for the Gazette, says he would recommend unionizing to any news organization in the state.

"Even if we didn’t get everything we wanted man, it’s just such a better process than anything we’ve had before. To go through this I just felt like okay, this is one of the few tools we have to save local journalism," Flores said.

A spokesperson for Lee Enterprises says the company does not have a comment on the contract at this time.

The Guild says negotiated benefits include pay raises for the staff’s three lowest paid employees, base starting salary for future hires, a grievance procedure, overtime and severance guarantees, diversity requirements in hiring practices and fixed insurance premium rates for 2021.

Lee rejected the Guild’s request for wage increases for 17 staff members and layoff protections beyond mid December.

The Billings Gazette and Lee Enterprises have said they will implement layoffs if three employees do not seek a buyout from the paper within 45 days of the ratification of the contract.

Lee Enterprises owns the Billings Gazette, the Missoulian, the Helena Independent Record, the Montana Standard in Butte and the Ravalli Republic.