Newsroom Staffers at Southern Illinoisan Take Step Toward Unionizing

Third Lee-Owned Paper to Seek Unionization This Year

April 30, 2018 – Newsroom staffers at the award-winning Southern Illinoisan have announced their intention to form a union dedicated to preserving quality journalism amid cutbacks and mounting financial pressures in the industry.

The workers’ campaign at the Southern Illinoisan continues a wave of organizing in newsrooms across the United States, including at the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. If successful, they would become the third Lee Enterprises-owned paper to unionize in recent months. Workers at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune and The Missoula (Montana) Independent voted to unionize on Feb. 28 and April 6, respectively.

The Southern Illinoisan employees filed documents with the National Labor Relations Board on April 27 indicating their desire to be represented by the United Media Guild, which is a local of The NewsGuild-CWA. The filing will trigger an NLRB-run election sometime in the next several weeks.

If a majority of those voting cast ballots in favor, employees in the news and sports sections will begin working with Lee Enterprises to negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement.

“Negotiating a good contract will help us continue to be a watchdog for the region and produce the quality journalism Southern Illinois demands from us,” said Todd Hefferman, a reporter at The Southern since 2003.

The organizing effort began after a mass layoff “further destabilized the newsroom in late January,” organizers said in a press release.

“We believe those losses went beyond the obvious human impact,” said Greg Keller, a copy editor with The Southern since 2014. “We believe cuts to local journalism run counter to our mission statement of being a force for positive change in the communities we serve.”

The fault doesn’t fall on local management, organizers of the unionizing effort said. These decisions have been imposed on the newspaper by Lee Enterprises, “distant decision-makers with little direct connection to Southern Illinois,” they said.

“The United Media Guild is thrilled to represent the newsroom at The Southern,” said Jeff Gordon, president of the St. Louis-based United Media Guild. “They join our members in St. Louis, Springfield, Pekin, Peoria and Rockford in fighting for the craft of journalism in the face of corporate cutbacks.”

The effort has received support from other local labor unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has a large presence in the area.

A mission statement drafted by supporters of the unionizing effort says Southern Illinoisan employees “need a more formal voice in the workplace” to counteract a corporate mentality that leads to “decisions based solely on the bottom line.”

The text of the employees’ mission statement appears below.

Mission statement:

Our mission is to help safeguard the future of The Southern Illinoisan by having a voice in preserving jobs and quality journalism.

The Southern Illinoisan is an essential provider of news, sports and advertising throughout the region. We take pride in our newspaper and its nearly 125-year history, striving every day to serve our communities and our readers.

However, the newspaper industry is changing. More and more owners – such as Lee Enterprises, which owns The Southern Illinoisan – are making decisions based solely on the bottom line. They are siphoning away profits instead of investing in local news, sending those profits to corporate offices to reward top executives for stripping down the newspapers that mean so much to their communities.

We, the employees, need a more formal voice in the workplace to counteract that corporate mentality and to help ensure that The Southern Illinoisan remains strong going forward. We want to form a union and affiliate with the United Media Guild. This organization represents our fellow journalists at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the State Journal-Register in Springfield, the Journal Star in Peoria, and more.

Years of health-insurance premium increases without pay raises have resulted in the loss of talented staff members, depriving readers of their institutional knowledge and expertise about the region. For those who remain, repeated layoffs have further destabilized the newsroom, making it difficult for The Southern Illinoisan to fulfill its watchdog function and provide in-depth coverage. Staff reductions have had a direct effect on the amount of quality journalism we are able to produce, the extent of our coverage area, and even the distribution of our print edition.

Joining the Guild is a crucial step toward being better advocates for ourselves, and, in turn, our readers. With a union and a good labor contract, we can institute more fairness and democracy in our workplace to help ensure stability.

Our goal is the long-term success of The Southern Illinoisan. We look forward to working with our local management in achieving that goal. We are asking Lee Enterprises to recognize the United Media Guild as our representative.

– The Southern Illinoisan Organizing Committee