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Idaho Statesman journalists hope to form union to ‘preserve Idaho news’

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All eligible editorial staff in the Idaho Statesman newsroom intend to form a union, the group said Monday.

In a letter signed by 16 non-management members of the Statesman’s news staff, the journalists said the intent of the union is to “preserve Idaho news and give our staff a seat at the table.”

Each of the members signed a mission statement and said they delivered it to Statesman publisher Rusty Dodge’s assistant.

The union hopes McClatchy, which owns the Statesman, will voluntarily recognize the organizing effort. Several other McClatchy papers, including the company’s flagship Sacramento Bee, use union labor. If not, the group says it will vote in the next several weeks to form a union among eligible employees. The NewsGuild, part of the Communications Workers of America, will represent the Idaho News Guild, as the group calls itself.

A message to Dodge seeking comment was forwarded to McClatchy’s corporate PR department. A spokesperson did not respond to specific questions, but did provide a statement:

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“The Idaho Statesman and McClatchy are reviewing a letter from our journalists in Boise sharing their intention to form a union. We appreciate the right of our journalists to be represented by the News Guild-CWA and will consider their request and respond shortly.”

McClatchy, which entered bankruptcy protection last month, repeatedly cut the newsgathering capabilities of the capital city’s oldest news organization. It faces pressure from a severe downturn in print advertising revenue, plus intense competition for digital advertising from Google and Facebook. The company in recent years aggressively turned to build a stronger digital subscription business to stem the losses.

Idaho is a so-called “right-to-work state,” which means a union can’t require employees to join or pay dues in order to get a job. If McClatchy recognizes the union, or a vote to form proves successful, the guild could gain collective bargaining rights over issues like wages, healthcare costs, and other labor issues.

‘Proud of our work’

The guild said the editorial staff stands at one-third its size from 2011, and half as large as three years ago.

In a release, the guild raised concern over McClatchy’s handling of the Boise newsroom.

“The journalists here at the Idaho Statesman are proud of our work, but we’ve long been demoralized by a series of unpaid furloughs, layoffs, stagnant pay, and worsening benefits,” business reporter John Sowell said in the statement. “Getting summoned to the editor’s office or to an unscheduled staff meeting makes me wonder whether I’m getting laid off.”

Statesman reporters, photographers, a columnist, and a news clerk signed the mission statement. Names familiar to readers, including Michael Deeds, Audrey Dutton, Nicole Foy, Rachel Roberts, Cynthia Sewell, and others signed the statement. Many staff members change Twitter profile pictures to the News Guild’s logo.

Last week, Dutton’s work saw praise from former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather for an investigative piece on misleading practices involving Idaho roads that led to bonuses for contractors.

The Statesman also faces increased competition from Adams Publishing’s The Idaho Press. The paper, long focused on Canyon County, began competing and expanding into Ada County in 2017. The expansion started after an agreement to print the Statesman at Adams’ Nampa printing plant ended. Circulation figures viewed by BoiseDev show a rise in print circulation for the Press, while circulation at the Statesman dropped.

Disclosure: BoiseDev has a content partnership with The Idaho Press.

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