“Lakeland Ledger” newsroom staff vote to join News Guild-CWA

LAKELAND, Fla. (PAI) – By an overwhelming 22-3 margin, newsroom staffers at the Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger voted on August 11 to unionize with The News Guild-CWA.

The key issue in the campaign was a voice at work, as the staff hand-signed and posted an open letter saying they want to work for a quality newspaper and that layoffs and unfilled positions mandated by the Ledger’s corporate parent, GateHouse Media, make that difficult.

And Ledger reporters have gone without raises for eight years, under GateHouse and predecessor owners.

“Not only is Thursday’s action a historic moment for journalism in Florida, I’m confident it is a positive step for The Ledger,” Gary White, a Ledger reporter for 14 years and a leader in the organizing drive, told the Guild.

“This landslide vote sends an unmistakable signal that employees demand to have a voice in critical decisions that will determine how The Ledger responds to the challenges of an industry in transition,” he added.

The Ledger now becomes the only paper in Florida, and the first in modern memory, to have a unionized newsroom, the Guild said. The paper has 45,000 daily subscribers and more than 60,000 on Sunday.

The staff expects talks with GateHouse to start in a few months. A check of the corporation’s website disclosed no immediate comment on the vote.

White and fellow Ledger reporter John Chambliss told the Guild that serving readers is more difficult since GateHouse bought the paper in January 2015. At least 21 newsroom workers have been laid off, six other unfilled positions were eliminated and the Winter Haven bureau was cut from four workers to one. The two contend that having the union can arm workers to battle for quality, and against cuts.

“Unionization introduces democracy into the workplace, giving the employee a voice in their working conditions,” Chambliss said.

“The hard-working and dedicated staff of the newsroom wants The Ledger to continue its important mission of informing Polk County residents,” White added. “We welcome a new role in collaborating with the company to establish journalistic and financial success.”

The hand-signed mission statement that Ledger newsroom workers drafted and posted said 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 Ledgeris operated. A good contract will give us that essential voice.”

Photo: Lakeland Ledger journalists and Guild supporters Gary White, John Chambliss and Kevin Bouffard. The Newspaper Guild.


CONTRIBUTOR

PAI
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Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.

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