Journalists from The Roanoke Times win election to form union

Local News
(Photo: Courtesy Timesland News Guild)

(Photo: Courtesy Timesland News Guild)

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Journalists of The Roanoke Times and Laker Weekly scored a major victory on Tuesday in an election to form the Timesland News Guild union. 

In a statement released on Tuesday, April 28, newsroom employees voted 47-3 in favor of representing the interests of the newspaper, the community, and themselves through the Washington-Baltimore News Guild Local 32035 of The NewsGuild, which is a sector of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

“Today, The Roanoke Times newsroom stood up, not just for each other, but for our readers. Coming together as Timesland News Guild will finally give us a voice in the decisions that affect one of our most important community institutions: local news,” says Tonia Moxley, a 20-year veteran reporter. “I’m so proud to work with this group of brave, self-sacrificing journalists and support staff. And I’m so grateful to our readers and subscribers for their support.”

On April 10, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) starting mailing ballots for the union certification election to more than 50 Roanoke Times newsroom employees who had the qualifications for guild membership, the release states. At 11 a.m. on Tuesday, officials say the NLRB counted the mail-in ballots via Skype at the federal agency’s regional office in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“Our union win is a win for all Southwest Virginians,” says Shawn Garrett, a graphic designer at the newspaper since 2015. “The Times might be owned by a company halfway across the country, but a union will help ensure that the paper will be made by people who live here, who love this region and know it deeply. In short, it will work to keep the local paper local.”

Officials say Iowa-based Lee Enterprises purchased The Roanoke Times, Laker Weekly, and several other Virginia newspapers from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Media Group on March 16. However, by March 17, the Timesland News Guild announced its intent to form a union after more than 80 percent of eligible employees signed union authorization cards, the news release states.

The NLRB suspended elections last month due to of COVID-19 concerns, and despite strong support within the newsroom and the community — as well as numerous requests from subscribers, former employees, and guild members — officials from Lee Enterprises refused to recognize the Timesland News Guild voluntarily, thus denying employees the opportunity to start bargaining over working conditions.

Even though the NLRB recommenced elections on April 6, Lee Enterprises already announced mandatory newsroom furloughs due to the economic fallout from COVID-19, the news release says. According to officials, all employees — including reporters, photographers, designers, digital editors, and support staff — will be off the job for two weeks over the next three months. However, since the Timesland News Guild had yet to be certified by an election, the news release states, the employees did not have the same power as other unionized Lee Enterprises papers to negotiate any terms of the furloughs.

“The overwhelming vote in favor of unionizing is a win, not just for Roanoke Times journalists, but for our community and readers, too,” says Casey Fabris, a business reporter who joined The Roanoke Times in 2015. “With a seat at the table, we can work to protect and preserve local news, which The Roanoke Times has been dedicated to producing for 134 years.”

Officials say the members of the Timesland News Guild hope to work with Lee Enterprises and strengthen The Roanoke Times by “holding leaders accountable to high journalistic standards that readers deserve; advocating for the restoration of jobs and beats that serve the community; and negotiating fair pay and employment practices.”

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