Ledger building

Most 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:
Mission statement
[box]This article was updated Tuesday afternoon noting lack of response from newspaper officials and providing links to other coverage.[/box]

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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  1. A union won’t make The Ledger’s owners more interested in “quality journalism”, and the union members will only take a pay cut to pay their dues. Consider Detroit, Philadelphia, New Jersey … What The Ledger needs is a new, local owner. Let’s find one!

    1. Dues don’t start to be paid until there’s a contract ratified by the union members. What’s the likelihood of union members approving a contract without a pay increase that more-than-compensates for dues? So it’s extremely unlikely that union members, in the end, would “take a pay cut to pay their dues.” A contract can safeguard professional ethics, and a contract can institute a pay scale and working conditions that serve to retain top-quality jobs and top-quality journalists. Those are some ways that unionizing can promote quality journalism and benefit readers in the long run. Waiting for a new owner that is local is far from certain, and a local owner wouldn’t necessarily mean things would get better. Unionizing doesn’t guarantee things will get better, but it does guarantee that workers have a voice and no longer have to watch helplessly from the sidelines.

  2. Maybe the union can stop some of the firings going on over there. The greatest misnomer related to this is Florida is a ‘right to work’ state, which means you can be fired without cause. I understand making decisions based on the bottom line, but from what I’ve seen, they’ve gutted the absolute heart and soul of a good newspaper.

  3. I guess my greater concern is why there is a double standard in reporting. Why have Mr. Drake and Ms. DeVore to responded to requests for comment. They certainly wouldn’t abide that from any other area business. And I know that for a fact from 40 years in the area business community. I haven’t seen this information in my Ledger. Why not. Very, very sad.

  4. Since Florida is a Right to work state, what’s to stop Gatehouse from firing everyone and using stringers?

  5. Please look above for a definition of what “Right to Work” really means. Your description is not accurate. Union organizing activity is protected by federal law, so GateHouse would face legal action if it did what you suggest. I don’t know of any newspaper that has fired all its full timers and hired all freelancers. And doing so would kill the brand and be financial suicide.

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