A majority of the newsroom staff of the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s statewide newspaper, began the process Monday of forming a union, according to a news release from the Casper News Guild.

The newsroom staff holds the local leadership in incredibly high esteem, according to the news release. "Our editors and our general manager work hard and prioritize telling the stories important to our readers. We couldn’t do our jobs without them."

The Wyoming Press Association recently named the Star-Tribune the state's best daily newspaper.

But the local leadership does not control how many journalists are available for news gathering or its budget for covering the city and state, according to the news release.

Since 2002, the Star-Tribune has been owned by the Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises (LEE: NYSE) that operates in 49 markets in 21 states, according to the Davenport, Iowa-based company's website.

Newsroom staff appreciates some of the benefits of being part of a large media corporation.

However, Lee Enterprises’ obligations to its shareholders often clash with the interests of the Star-Tribune's readers in Casper and Wyoming, who rely on the newspaper for vital news and information.
"Organizing the newsroom is our way — as journalists dedicated to the communities we cover — to strengthen local control over Wyoming’s largest media organization," according to the news release.

Negotiating a collective agreement for the Star-Tribune’s news staff will allow it to create more stable reporting jobs in Wyoming, attract more experienced journalists, and motivate them to stay longer, according to the news release.

A collective agreement will also allow the staff to have a voice in the event of future layoffs or cost-cutting measures. Finally, an agreement will enable the staff to speak directly to readers so that any business decisions by Lee Enterprises that hurt Wyoming will not go unnoticed.

On Monday, the Star-Tribune's newsroom staff took the first official step toward forming a union for the purposes of bargaining a collective agreement, or contract, with the company.

Under federal regulations, the process is initiated by filing cards signed by at least 30 percent of the newsroom with the National Labor Relations Board requesting that an election be held in which all members of non-management newsroom staff have the right to vote on whether they want to collectively bargain for a contract.

The Casper News Guild did just that on Monday when it filed cards with the NLRB office in Denver signed by more than 80 percent of the newsroom staff.
The election will be held within the next four weeks. The vote works by simple majority. If more than 50 percent of newsroom staff votes in favor of unionizing, the Casper News Guild will begin the bargaining process with Lee Enterprises.

The Casper News Guild is affiliated with the Denver News Guild, which is part of the Communications Workers of America.

The organizing drive was initiated within the newsroom and any future bargaining process would be dictated by the interests of local staff.

But the News Guild’s resources are essential for both protecting the staff's rights during this process and assisting it during any future negotiations with Lee Enterprises.

There are currently no News Guild units in Wyoming.

The Star-Tribune newsroom staff realizes the newspaper industry remains a difficult one, according to the news release.

"But we earnestly believe that investing in good journalism is the best way to both effectively cover our city and state and find financial success as a media organization. We are eager to complete the election stage of this process and sit down at the table with Lee Enterprises to negotiate a deal that maintains and improves the product we offer to the state of Wyoming while strengthening the company."

Newspaper general manager Dale Bohren said in a prepared statement that he's aware of the request and will comply with the laws governing the organizing process.

But Bohren said he hopes the employees vote against union representation. "We have a terrific newsroom, and I believe it is better served by direct communication with each other, as we all share the common goal of providing our readers and advertising customers the best newspaper and online news in the state of Wyoming.”

The organizing committee of the Casper News Guild represents the vast majority of the Casper Star-Tribune’s non-management newsroom staff. It can be reached through caspernewsguild@gmail.com and  Facebook.com/CasperNewsGuild.