A group of employees is seeking to form a union in the Chicago Tribune’s newsroom, in what would be a historic move at the 171-year-old newspaper.

Organizers notified editors and sent a recruitment memo to staffers Wednesday, urging them to join the effort to form the paper’s first newsroom union. The stated goals include regular raises, advancement opportunities, better parental leave policies and a more diverse newsroom.

But more than specific demands, the organizers say they seek to give voice to a newsroom buffeted by downsizing and shifting corporate leadership, most recently under Chicago-based Tronc.

“There’s been a real sense of anxiety and instability, and frankly chaos, in the newsroom, particularly in the past few months,” said Megan Crepeau, 29, a criminal courts reporter and eight-year veteran of the Chicago Tribune who helped organize the union effort. “I think that directly stems from our corporate ownership.”

Formerly known as Tribune Publishing, Tronc owns the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times and other publications.

Last month, the Chicago Tribune began implementation of a newsroom reorganization that included layoffs.

Tronc spokeswoman Marisa Kollias referred to a memo sent to the newsroom Wednesday by Bruce Dold, the Tribune’s publisher and editor-in-chief, in lieu of a comment. In that memo, Dold acknowledged receipt of a letter from union organizers and told staffers that Tribune management “has the utmost respect for the decisions you make and for your rights on this issue.” He also outlined steps the paper is taking to address employees’ concerns.

“We are in the midst of a newsroom reorganization that is designed to put us in the best position to fulfill our mission and thrive in an intensely competitive media environment,” Dold said in the memo. “We are committed to investing in our newsroom. We are committed to serving this community and to remaining the largest and most impactful news organization in the Midwest.”

The organizing effort is the latest in an industry that faces ongoing revenue declines and an uncertain digital future.

In January, the Los Angeles Times newsroom overwhelmingly voted to join the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, a first for the traditionally anti-union newspaper, which was founded in 1881. Tronc subsequently agreed to sell the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune and other California-based assets to Los Angeles biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong for $500 million in cash. The deal is expected to close by early in the second quarter.

If successful, the Tribune editorial staffers would join the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, which represents The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Tronc-owned Baltimore Sun, among other newspapers. The Tribune collective bargaining unit would be part of the union’s local affiliate, the Chicago News Guild, which has long represented newsroom staffers at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Pulitzer-prize winning journalists Clarence Page, Mary Schmich and E. Jason Wambsgans were among the more than 40 Tribune employees who signed the memo supporting the unionization effort.

Organizers said the Tribune collective bargaining unit would represent about 280 journalists at the Chicago Tribune, Spanish-language newspaper Hoy, RedEye and four suburban newspapers. Pioneer Press and other suburban newspapers acquired from the Chicago Sun-Times are already represented by the Chicago News Guild.

A minimum of 30 percent of newsroom employees have to support the union effort in order for it to be recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, said David Roeder, an organizer with the Chicago News Guild. Tronc can then recognize the union or request a formal vote.

“We are really confident in our level of support,” Crepeau said. “We would not have gone public if we weren’t.”

Last month, staffers at Chicago-based humor website The Onion and its sister publications announced plans to join the Writers Guild of America East in a bid to preserve their workplace culture and their jobs.

In November, the New York newsroom of DNAinfo and Gothamist voted to join the Guild. Owner Joe Ricketts abruptly shut down DNAinfo and Gothamist sites across the country, including DNAinfo Chicago and Chicagoist.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @RobertChannick

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