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Roanoke Times Plans to Unionize

Reporters at Virginia Newspaper are taking a page from other papers in Virginia and around the country. They seeking to unionize their paper, The Roanoke Times.

On Monday, the sale of the Roanoke Times to Lee Enterprises became final. Known for buying up papers and making cuts, reporters at Roanoke Times decided to organize.

“It happened just from conversations, especially among our younger staff. They care about this community. They're committed to it, and they wanted to fight to make sure that the newspaper not just survived, but thrived."

Tonia Moxley covers the New River Valley for the paper.

“So when they came to me," she says,  "I've been here for 20 years – I'd started to feel kind of hopeless myself about what was happening in the newsroom and the fact that we've lost half of our staff in six years.”

Journalists and staff at The Roanoke Times are concerned about new owners, Lee Enterprises, which has been managing the paper for a year, and its reputation for cutting jobs and coverage.

Tonia Moxley is a long-time reporter at the Times who supports the plan to unionize.  

“Our great hope is that they want to work with us and they want to make a profitable, sustainable business here in our community and support the public service mission. That's the whole reason we exist," Moxley says. "And you know, the more you cut the newsroom, the less reporting you have, the less news you have, the less important you become to the community and the less you’re able to serve the community.” 

The workers plan to unionize as the Timesland News Guild and they’re asking Lee to join them at the bargaining table. If the company does not, the guild will file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.

Rick Edmonds is a media and business analyst at the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Journalism.

He says, “There have been successful unionization drives all over the country and that trend is going to continue as long as there’s uncertainty in the business.  Those organizing want to get better pay, better benefits and they want to be able to talk to management about what happens next.” 

Lee Enterprises has not returned requests for comment on the employee plan to unionize The Roanoke Times. Supporters of the move say more than 75% of the newsroom has signed on to the plan to form a union.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.