Southern Illinoisan moves to join UMG

The United Media Guild welcomes the journalists of the Southern Illinoisan, who formerly requested representation from the local Friday.

The newsroom at the Southern will join another Lee Enterprises newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in the UMG.

Here is the news release issued by the organizing committee:

“Journalists at the award-winning Southern Illinoisan today formally announced their intention to form a union dedicated to preserving quality journalism amid cutbacks and mounting financial pressures in the newspaper industry.

“The employees have filed documents with the National Labor Relations Board stating their desire to be represented by the United Media Guild, which is affiliated with The NewsGuild-CWA. The filing will trigger an NLRB-monitored election, likely in the next 20 to 40 days.

“‘The Southern Illinoisan has provided a voice for the region for over 100 years, but I’m deeply concerned with the direction of the newspaper under the Lee Enterprises business model,’ said Todd Hefferman, a reporter at The Southern since 2003.

“If a majority of those voting cast ballots in favor, the newsroom will unionize and begin working with The Southern’s corporate owner, Lee Enterprises, to negotiate a first labor contract.

“‘Negotiating a good contract will help us continue to be a watchdog for the region and produce the quality journalism Southern Illinois demands from us,’” Hefferman said.

The organizing effort began after an unannounced mass layoff further destabilized the newsroom in late January.

“’We believe those losses went beyond the obvious human impact,’ said Greg Keller, a copy editor with The Southern since 2014. ‘We believe cuts to local journalism run counter to our mission statement of being a force for positive change in the communities we serve.’

“The fault doesn’t fall on local management, organizers of the unionizing effort said. These decisions have been imposed on the newspaper by distant decision-makers with little direct connection to southern Illinois, the organizers said.

“‘The United Media Guild is thrilled to represent the newsroom at The Southern,” said Jeff Gordon, president of the St. Louis-based United Media Guild. “Our new members there are dedicated to maintaining this important institution for the region. They join our members in St. Louis, Springfield, Pekin, Peoria and Rockford in fighting for the craft of journalism in the face of corporate cutbacks.’

“Organizing committee members have received local support from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME is the largest union representing public employees in the United States, and AFSCME has a major presence in southern Illinois.

“‘The Southern Illinoisan plays a vital role in chronicling developments of importance to those who live and work in southern Illinois,’ said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31. ‘As with any enterprise, its greatest resource is the employees who make it happen. You deserve respect and fair treatment. Congratulations on taking the surest path to assuring such treatment by coming together to form a union.’

“The Southern’s news and sports sections stands in solidarity with fellow journalists at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune and The Missoula (Montana) Independent — two other Lee papers where successful newsroom organizing campaigns have taken place in recent months. The Southern’s staff also supports newly unionized journalists at the Los Angeles Times and backs the recently announced unionizing effort at the Chicago Tribune.

And here is the mission statement crafted by committee:

“Our mission is to help safeguard the future of The Southern Illinoisan by having a voice in preserving jobs and quality journalism.

“The Southern Illinoisan is an essential provider of news, sports and advertising throughout the region. We take pride in our newspaper and its nearly 125-year history, striving every day to serve our communities and our readers.

“However, the newspaper industry is changing. More and more owners — such as Lee Enterprises, which owns The Southern Illinoisan — are making decisions based solely on the bottom line. They are siphoning away profits instead of investing in local news, sending those profits to corporate offices to reward top executives for stripping down the newspapers that mean so much to their communities.

“We, the employees, need a more formal voice in the workplace to counteract that corporate mentality and to help ensure that The Southern Illinoisan remains strong going forward. We want to form a union and affiliate with the United Media Guild. This organization represents our fellow journalists at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the State Journal-Register in Springfield, the Journal Star in Peoria, and more.

“Years of health-insurance premium increases without pay raises have resulted in the loss of talented staff members, depriving readers of their institutional knowledge and expertise about the region. For those who remain, repeated layoffs have further destabilized the newsroom, making it difficult for The Southern Illinoisan to fulfill its watchdog function and provide in-depth coverage. Staff reductions have had a direct effect on the amount of quality journalism we are able to produce, the extent of our coverage area, and even the distribution of our print edition.

“Joining the Guild is a crucial step toward being better advocates for ourselves, and, in turn, our readers. With a union and a good labor contract, we can institute more fairness and democracy in our workplace to help ensure stability.

“Our goal is the long-term success of The Southern Illinoisan. We look forward to working with our local management in achieving that goal. We are asking Lee Enterprises to recognize the United Media Guild as our representative.

— The Southern Illinoisan Organizing Committee