Billings Gazette news staff unanimously votes to unionize

Hourly employees at Montana’s largest daily newspaper formalized their bargaining unit in a unanimous vote on Thursday. 

After announcing their plans on May 28, members of The Montana News Guild participated in a mail ballot election administered by the National Labor Relations Board through its regional office in Denver. 

The ballots were counted Thursday and all 18 showed yes votes. Two employees did not return mail ballots in time to be counted. 

“It feels good to have this nailed down,” said Gazette public safety reporter Phoebe Tollefson. “Now we’ll get to work on getting a contract proposal the group is happy with, and go from there.” 

While the bargaining unit will cover 21 hourly photographers, copy editors, reporters and other news staff, just 20 of them were mailed ballots. Reporter Paul Hamby began work after the group filed its petition with the labor board, so he was not given a vote.

Now that the bargaining unit has been formalized, the Montana News Guild will begin writing its proposed contract, which it will present to Lee Enterprises when bargaining begins. 

No dates have yet been set for contract negotiations between the union and the company, but Denver News Guild representative Tony Mulligan said negotiations could begin within roughly one month. 

The Montana News Guild will become a member of the Denver News Guild, which also represents two newspapers each in Colorado (The Denver Post and Pueblo Chieftan) and Wyoming (Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and fellow Lee paper Casper Star-Tribune), as well as the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska, also a Lee paper. The Denver News Guild also represents five non-journalism labor unions and nonprofit staffs in Colorado. 

Contract negotiations can take several months. 

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