Ledger Of Lakeland Journalists May Unionize
Employees of the Ledger of Lakeland newspaper are trying to form a union after repeated staff cutbacks and no raises for eight years.
Reporters, photographers, copy editors and other journalists in the Ledger’s newsroom announced in a statement Tuesday morning they are working with the Washington D.C.-based guild NewsGuild, formerly known as the Newspaper Guild.
“The hard-working news staff deserves to have a voice in the decisions that will determine whether The Ledger continues to exist as a valued news source and a viable business,” said Gary White, a Ledger reporter for 14 years.
“In forming a union and negotiating a good first contract, the newsroom staff hopes to preserve the journalistic quality and integrity that Polk County residents have relied upon for 92 years.”
The intent to unionize was filed Monday at the Tampa regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. A NLRB-monitored election of Ledger news staff members will be held in the next 20 to 40 days.
If the majority of employees vote in favor of a union, the NewsGuild would start negotiating a labor contract with the paper's corporate owner, New York-based GateHouse Media.
WUSF reached out to GateHouse Media for comment via phone and email, but has not received any response.
John Chambliss, a 15-year veteran of The Ledger’s reporting staff, said unionizing will allow newsroom staff to have more of a voice at their owner's table.
"This is the only step we feel we can take here,” Chambliss said.
He said newsroom staff did not reach out to GateHouse prior to their attempt to unionize.
“We realize the paper has challenges, of course, but we know GateHouse is successful and we want some of those successes, those monetary successes, to be shared,” Chambliss said.
Chambliss said it’s been more challenging to provide high quality coverage since GateHouse acquired the paper in January 2015.
Since then, at least 21 newsroom employees have been laid off, about six other unfilled positions have been eliminated, and the paper’s Winter Haven bureau, which produces stories for GateHouse’s News Chief newspaper, has gone from four employees to one.
Chambliss said the paper has also struggled to retain experienced journalists after eight years without raises.
NewsGuild President Bernie Lunzer said that and the lay-offs affect the quality of the journalism.
"We really feel that if people care about their news organization and local news in Lakeland, we do too, and we're going to try to work to preserve that," Lunzer said. "It's more than just about trying to keep a decent wage, these days. It's about trying to keep decent journalism."
A mission statement drafted and signed by 18 newsroom employees says they “recognize that The Ledger is a business, and we want it to succeed. For that to happen, newsroom employees need a role in how The Ledger is operated. A good contract will give us that essential voice.”
The Ledger, with a daily circulation of nearly 46,000 and Sunday circulation of 61,000, would become the only paper in Florida to have a unionized newsroom, according to the statement released by the NewsGuild.