Reduced work hours, low pay cited against backdrop of rising housing prices

May 19, 2022
MainStreetMontana.com
BY: 
 
DailyMontana.org

 The logo of the Yellowstone News Guild.

 

The newsroom employees at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle have voted unanimously to certify the Yellowstone Newspaper Guild. It becomes the second daily newspaper in the state to form a union in the past three years.

Eight out of eight newsroom employees voted in the mail ballot election, which was administered by the National Labor Relations Board through its regional office in Seattle. The ballots were sent on April 25 and counted Tuesday, according to the Yellowstone Newspaper Guild.

The Yellowstone News Guild will join the Denver Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America Local 37074.

Staff members at the Daily Chronicle said that two factors played a part in its unionizing efforts, a reduction of hours that originally started with the COVID-19 pandemic, which have never been fully reversed, and the soaring cost of housing in the rapidly growing community.

Seven out of the eight staff members started with the newspaper after 2020, and joined around the time when Adams Publishing Group, the owners of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, cut newsroom hours down to 30 per week. Since then, staff writer Nora Shelly said, the hours have increased to 35 and then again to 37.5 per week. Recently, communication with management indicates that the 37.5-hour work week will become standard.

A recent handout put on newsroom employees’ desks that was unsigned said that Adams intends to continue the practice of reduced hours. Shelly said that while most staff members try to manage hours to the 37.5 workweek, most put in extra time in order to bring news to the readers and community.

Calls to Adams Publishing and emails were not returned to the Daily Montanan.

Other factors leading to the formation of the union include rapidly rising housing prices. While housing prices have soared quickly in many Montana communities, few, if any, have seen the meteoric rise of housing that has been seen in Gallatin County.

Realtor.com pegs Bozeman’s median house price in April 2022 at $849,000 and the median condominium at $515,000.

Shelly said Daily Chronicle staffers are offered as little as $16.50 per hour to start in the newsroom, a starting wage that is often lower than those at fast-food restaurants or even big-box retailers.

Shelly said that reporters were generally happy with the local management, including the editor and publisher, but felt like their concerns were not heard by the out-of-state management at Adams Publishing Group.

“We don’t have any gripes with our editor or publisher,” Shelly said. “But we’re not really heard at the company level.”

She said raises that were given out did not cover the loss of paid hours or even the cost of living increase, meaning most of the employees were falling farther behind than when they began working in Bozeman.

“A responsive company would recognize a cost-of-living adjustment has to be made,” she said.

The union will now sit down with Adams representatives, who Shelly said have committed to bargaining in good faith. No timeline has been set, but she said guild members are reviewing contracts, preparing for the bargaining sessions.

“We love it here, and we’re hoping to negotiate a contract as quickly as we can,” Shelly said. “We want to make it a place we can stay and we want it to be where we can stay as long as we can.”

In a statement by the entire guild, it urges the Minnesota-based company to stop dragging its feet.

“Our guild members cannot wait for corporate delaying tactics,” it said. “Our need for better working conditions is immediate.”

The Billings Gazette newsroom unionized in 2020.

 
Darrell Ehrlick
DARRELL EHRLICK

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.