The reporters, photographers and copy editors of The Lakeland Ledger overwhelmingly voted Thursday to be represented by the News Guild-CWA, Communications Workers of America, in contract negotiations with the paper’s owners, GateHouse Media.
The vote, supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, was 23 for union representation and 3 against, setting off rumors of other newspapers’ news personnel ready to request their own union votes in the state.
The Ledger newsroom is now the first union newsroom in Florida, but likely not the last.
Organizers of the union vote stressed that it was GateHouse and not management of The Ledger that was responsible for their seeking union representation.
“It is important to stress that this is not about Lenore (Devore, the editor) or about Kevin (Drake, the publisher),” said John Chambliss, a senior reporter at the paper and one of the organizers.
“It is about GateHouse,” Chambliss said. “They have made large profits, enough to give investors and corporate managers large pay increases, but there have been no raises for us in years and we have the uncertainty of more layoffs.
“Our work contributes to their ability to give those increases to others,” he said.
The Ledger, owned for decades by the New York Times Company, was sold to Halifax Media in 2011 and then sold to GateHouse Media in 2015. The parent company of GateHouse is New Media Investment Group, which is managed by the private equity firm Fortress Investment Group.
Print newspapers have been hit hard with economic woes, but ad revenue from their online versions are on the rise. The Ledger, as have many newsrooms in the country, has faced layoffs with little warning or time to for journalists to seek other jobs and the salaries are stagnant.
Ledger union organizers said their association with News Guild will give some protection against the spontaneous layoffs and allow journalists to have a say in and contribute ideas for improving the paper.
“We are looking forward to negotiating with GateHouse and to helping improve both of our interests in The Ledger,” Chambliss said.