Newsroom Staff at Southern Illinoisan Votes Unanimously to Unionize

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Newsroom employees of The Southern Illinoisan voted unanimously Thursday to form a union.

The 12-0 vote means the staff of 12 eligible employees will be represented by the United Media Guild, an affiliate of the NewsGuild-CWA, as the staff bargains for its first labor contract with the newspaper's owner, Lee Enterprises.

“I’m excited to take the next step in our newsroom, earning a bigger voice at The Southern Illinoisan,” said Todd Hefferman, a sports reporter at the newspaper covering Southern Illinois University athletics. “Today is a big win for local journalism.”

The Southern Illinoisan joins the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune and Missoula (Montana) Independent as Lee-owned newspapers with unionized newsrooms.

Thursday's election was administered by the National Labor Relations Board and required a simple majority of those casting ballots for a union to be approved. Contract negotiations between the Guild and Lee Enterprises are expected to begin in coming weeks.

“I’d like to thank our hard-working and dedicated newsroom staff along with Jeff Gordon, Dean Olsen, David Carson and Shannon Duffy from the United Media Guild,” said Shawn Anglin, a copy editor who has been employed at The Southern Illinoisan since 2012. “Their expertise, guidance and support are what helped make this process go smoothly, and for that we are grateful.”

The organizing effort began in earnest after Jan. 31, when a corporate directive resulted in an unannounced mass layoff at The Southern Illinoisan. The layoffs totaled 18 percent of the newspaper's overall workforce, three of whom were newsroom employees.

A mission statement drafted by The Southern Illinoisan's newsroom organizers notes that the effort is not simply about benefits for the new union's members, but about preserving the newspaper's ability to serve as a watchdog for the region as a whole. The publication's coverage area includes as many as 16 counties, and the cumulative effect of cutbacks over the past several years has challenged the staff's ability to serve the region.

United Media Guild president Jeff Gordon, a sportswriter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said: "We are thrilled the newsroom at The Southern voted to join the Guild and our fight to preserve quality journalism. We are eager to negotiate a first contract and build a constructive relationship with Lee Enterprises, just as we have here at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch."

The Southern Illinoisan’s organizing committee would like to recognize members from AFSCME Council 31, Laborers' Local 773, Southern Illinois Central Labor Council, and newsroom organizing members from Casper, Missoula, Chicago and Los Angeles for their help and support throughout this process.

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