BILLINGS — The members of the Montana News Guild unanimously approved a new two-year contract with Lee Enterprises, owners of the Billings Gazette, on Oct. 26.
Lee and the union agreed to a progressive pay scale based on length of service that will help retain staff, attract future applicants and provide equity in pay. Pay increases for individual employees range from 4% to more than 20% over the two years of the agreement, with the average increase of more than 10%.
“This is an encouraging step that reminds us why unionizing was such a good idea,” said Montana News Guild co-chairman Victor Flores. “While not perfect, it’s a much better contract than our first two, and we appreciate Lee for listening to our proposals.”
Montana News Guild co-chair Brett French said he was pleased to see Lee agree to the increases, although the union had sought more considering the high rate of inflation this year — 8.2%.
“Unionized Montana state employees negotiated a 6% raise,” French said. “Freight train union members were offered 14% with retro pay to 2020. I hope these signal a recognition of the economic difficulties Montana workers have long faced and continue to weather.”
Guild members received raises after the first two rounds of negotiations, as well, but couldn’t get the progressive scale until this one. Base pay also increased significantly more in this contract.
“It’s great to see a news organization putting money into local newsrooms,” French said. “Three years ago there were mandatory furloughs followed by buyouts, and last year there was the threat of a takeover by hedge fund Alden Global Capital. It’s a crazy time to be in the news business, but also one of the most important times ever for local coverage.”
The Guild also accepted sick/personal time as part of its PTO policy, while Lee declined to maintain current health care percentages.
This is the third contract the union has negotiated since it formed in 2020, and it’s the first to go beyond one year.
The Gazette is Montana’s largest newspaper and one of five papers in the state that Lee owns. The other four are located in Butte, Helena, Missoula and Hamilton.