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Billings Gazette Staff Push To Unionize

Billings Gazette mast head
Nicky Ouellet
Yellowstone Public Radio
Billings Gazette Staff Push To Unionize

The news staff at the largest daily newspaper in Montana has started the push to form a union and is asking for recognition from their employer.

On May 28, the Montana News Guild sent a letter to Billings Gazette Publisher and President Dave Worstell, asking corporate owner Lee Enterprises to voluntarily recognize the news staff’s efforts.

Rob Rogers, a Gazette reporter and a member of the organizing committee, says the newspaper landscape is quickly changing.

“It would give us an opportunity to at least have a voice at the table and have a say in many of the changes that of course are happening to the news industry every day including layoffs and furloughs and shrinking publications,” Rogers said.

A news release sent out by the guild says they have submitted the necessary information to the National Labor Relations Board to seek a majority vote authorizing the union’s formation if they do not receive voluntary recognition.

The guild’s letter was signed by 19 of the 21 members of the news staff. Rogers said that shows the news staff is as close to unified as they ever have been on anything.

Lee Enterprises owns four other newspapers in Montana: The Missoulian, the Helena Independent Record, the Montana Standard in Butte and the Ravalli Republic. None of those news departments are unionized.

The Gazette is the second newspaper in the state to push to unionize. In 2018, The Missoula Independent voted to unionize after being purchased by Lee Enterprises. Lee then closed the alternative weekly, notifying workers by email and voicemail.

Rogers calls voluntary recognition for the Montana News Guild the path of least resistance.

“We love our publication, We love what we do as journalists. We are all deeply invested in being a voice for our community. And we want to see the Gazette continue. We want to see it thrive. And we want to see the journalists who do that work be supported by those who employ us,” Rogers said.

Although the news staff has organized, a formal union vote has not yet happened.

YPR reached out to Billings Gazette publisher Dave Worstell for comment, and had not heard back by newstime.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.