Lee owns the Independent, the Missoulian and papers in Hamilton, Helena, Butte and Billings, Montana. Lee bought the financially struggling Independent in 2017.

In March, employees in editorial, production and sales filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to start the process of forming a union, called the Missoula News Guild.

Reporter Derek Brouwer, one of the union organizers, said of the 10 employees who signed the petition in favor of a union, eight votes were tabulated in favor. A ninth had given notice of intent to leave the company and was not in town for the vote.

A vote of one petitioner is disputed, Brouwer said. Lee is contesting Independent Arts Editor Erika Fredrickson's eligibility to be a member of the union. She cast a ballot, but it was not tabulated. The issue of her eligibility will be taken up by the NLRB.

"The Missoula News Guild is excited to sit down with management and hopeful that we can reach a mutually beneficial collective bargaining agreement with Lee Enterprises," the organizing committee wrote in a statement.

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