Ledger News Staff Seeks Union Representation

Ledger buildingMost of The Ledger’s reporters, photographers and copy editors have signed cards seeking union representation, saying they want a voice in decisions affecting the future of the newspaper as it faces economic uncertainty.

Publisher Kevin Drake and Editor Lenore Devore have not responded to a request for comment.

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Here is the text of a news release issued this morning:

LAKELAND — The newsroom staff of The Lakeland Ledger took a major step this week toward forming a union dedicated to preserving high-quality journalism amid cutbacks and mounting financial pressures in the newspaper industry.

Reporters, photographers, copy editors and other employees in The Ledger’s newsroom signed cards stating their desire to be represented by The NewsGuild-CWA. The cards, filed Monday at the Tampa regional office of the National Labor Relations Board, will trigger an NLRB-monitored election by Ledger staff members in the next 20 to 40 days.

If a majority of those voting casts ballots in favor, the newsroom will unionize and begin working with The Ledger’s corporate owner, GateHouse Media, to negotiate a first labor contract.

If the organizing drive is successful, The Ledger, with a daily circulation of 45,900 and Sunday circulation of 61,000, would become the only paper in Florida, and the first in modern memory, to have a unionized newsroom. The NewsGuild would represent 25 to 30 Ledger employees.

“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.”

John Chambliss, a 15-year veteran of The Ledger’s reporting staff, said he and his colleagues are “deeply concerned about the direction of The Ledger under the GateHouse business model. Unionization introduces democracy into the workplace, giving the employees a voice in their working conditions.”

GateHouse Media, based in Pittsford, New York, is one of the largest publishers of newspapers in the country. It is part of New Media Investment Group, a publicly traded company.

Chambliss said it’s been more challenging to provide the coverage that Ledger readers have come to expect since GateHouse acquired the paper in January 2015.

Since then, at least 21 newsroom employees have been laid off, at least 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.

The Ledger has found it hard to retain experienced journalists when newsroom employees have gone more than eight years without pay raises, Chambliss said.

A mission statement drafted and signed by newsroom employees interested in affiliating with The NewsGuild, formerly known as The Newspaper Guild-CWA, 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 mission statement and signatures:
This article was updated Tuesday afternoon noting lack of response from newspaper officials and providing links to other coverage.