By Dillon Kato, Missoulian

The employees of the Missoula Independent voted unanimously to unionize on Friday, weeks after alerting parent company Lee Enterprises of their intent to organize.

Lee owns the Independent, the Missoulian and papers in Hamilton, Helena, Butte and Billings in Montana. It purchased the financially ailing Independent a year ago.

In mid-March, staff in the editorial, production and sales departments of the Independent filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to begin the process of forming a union, called the Missoula News Guild.

Derek Brouwer, a reporter for the Independent and one of the union organizers, said of the initial 10 employees who signed the petition in favor of a union, eight votes were tabulated in favor on Friday.

A ninth employee had already submitted notice of intent to leave the company and was out of town for the vote.

The vote of the tenth petitioner is being disputed. Brouwer said Lee is contesting Independent Arts Editor Erika Fredrickson’s eligibility to be a member of the union, and that while she cast a ballot, it was not tabulated. The issue of her eligibility will be taken up by the NLRB.

“I’m just really proud of the staff of the Indy and the readers, advertisers and community members who voiced their support for us,” Brouwer told the Missoulian.

In a press release, the union said it is “excited to sit down with management and hopeful that we can reach a mutually beneficial collective bargaining agreement with Lee Enterprises. The unanimity of the vote is proof of how strongly the paper’s staff feels about securing a viable future for the Independent in Missoula.”

The Independent has been in publication in Missoula since 1991. When the company purchased the Independent, Mike Gulledge, Lee Enterprises vice president of publishing and publisher of the Missoulian, said both papers would remain editorially independent.

Independent publisher Matt Gibson, who had owned the publication since 1997 before selling it to Lee, was named general manager of the Indy, Missoulian and Ravalli Republic after the sale.