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Lee to Missoula Independent union members: Cut staff by 3/4 or shut down paper

Posted at 6:39 PM, Aug 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-27 23:43:49-04

MISSOULA – After Lee Enterprises threatened to shutter the presses at the Missoula Independent, members of the paper’s union are launching a public support campaign.

Lee Enterprises bought the Missoula alternative/weekly newspaper just over a year ago, after the paper’s financial struggles left it in a lurch. Staffers at the Independent say they formed a union, the Missoula News Guild, to protect its staff.

Now, union members say the Iowa-based media company is giving them an ultimatum: Lay off three-quarters of the nine-person staff or they will shut down the paper.

Union members say Lee Enterprises is not convinced that the paper is supported by the community or able to turn a profit. But members also say in a statement that Lee has not made a serious attempt at making the Indy financially viable.

Lee’s ultimatum comes after three rounds of negotiations and union members say that there are other alternatives to the layoffs.

“We don’t want that. We didn’t want that and we feel that there are better options, different options to help continue to be a part of Missoula,” said Ariel LaVenture, Missoula Independent marketing and events coordinator and Missoula News Guild member.

“We’ve seen the finances under a non-disclosure agreement. Especially after the deep cuts already made to staff in recent months, we believe the paper is close to turning a profit,” said Missoula News Guild member and reporter Derek Brouwer. “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.”

The paper’s staff are asking their Missoula supporters to post videos using the hashtag #keepMissoulaIndy while explaining why they read and support the Independent. They also ask readers to submit letters to the editor to the Independent and the Missoulian, to buy local coupons through iDeals and buy or extend advertising contracts with the paper.

Lee is Montana’s largest newspaper company. It owns daily newspapers in Billings, Missoula, Helena and Butte, along with the Independent and the Ravalli Repulic.

The Independent is the first paper to unionize under Lee’s management.

Missoula News Guild members are also hosting a public event at the Union Club on Saturday, Sept. 7 from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Story by Augusta McDonnell, MTN News