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The Billings Gazette Should Run a Correction and Apologize For Its Dishonest Hit Piece on Unions

It’s probably not newsworthy to observe that the Billings Gazette is hostile to organized labor, but it is disappointing that, on Saturday, it chose to run a dishonest editorial in support of a union-busting bill at the Montana Legislature.

In the piece, the Gazette offered its endorsement of Brad Tschida’s House Bill 323, claiming that agency fees paid to unions hold workers “captive to a system” before insultingly suggesting that members are bullied to pay fees to the unions.

[These fees, which the Gazette never explained in its editorial, were paid by members who chose not to join the union but who did benefit from the collective bargaining unions provider all workers. But even those fees are no longer in place, and freeloaders are able to reap the benefits of collective bargaining without paying any fees.]

It’s unfortunate that the Gazette editorial board doesn’t read their own product, because anyone who did would know that in June 2018, the Supreme Court struck down agency fee payments for non-dues paying members. In fact, because of Janus, no public employee union in Montana has collected any agency fees from non-members.

In railing against public sector unions specifically and labor unions in general, the Gazette didn’t even bother to get its fundamental facts right. Worse yet, it offered its endorsement of a bill that was so badly written that even Republicans on the committee voted to amend it. Among the elements of the bill endorsed by the Gazette were:

  • a provision that allowed people to break their contract and leave the union at any time;
  • a provision that violated the First Amendment right of non-members to pay dues through payroll deduction if they want to;
  • discouragement of collective bargaining to resolve disputes between management and labor.

The bill was little more than an effort to supercharge the already partisan attack on labor embodied in the Janus decision and the Gazette’s endorsement of a poorly written, punitive bill reflects not a reasoned addition to the debate about the role of labor in his country, but a dishonest attack on workers and those who represent them.

The Gazette has every right to take a position that is hostile to labor unions.

Given a corporate culture at Lee that is actively hostile to unions to the point of shuttering community institutions for the sin of its workers organizing, it’s not surprising that management at the Gazette would advocate against working men and women. Given a corporate culture that has gutted newsrooms every quarter in the pursuit of a few more nickels for grossly overpaid executives who ran the company to the ground, it would be a surprise if the Gazette didn’t attack labor.

But the Gazette–which often editorializes about its vital role in informing the public–does not have the right to make up facts in support of its anti-union agenda.

The Gazette owes workers, the labor community, and most of all, their readers, an apology for this embarrassing and inaccurate attack.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

2 Comments

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  • Lee Enterprises has been virulently anti-union for decades. As Mr Pogreba notes, Lee would rather shut down a profitable operation than deal in good faith with a collective bargaining situation. That is only one of the reasons that many of their properties are struggling to maintain any sort of position of influence in their communities.

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