Union supporters in the Los Angeles Times newsroom won a landslide victory in a recent union-representation election.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on January 19 announced that 248 newsroom employees voted to join the NewsGuild-CWA while 44 voted against.
In an open letter to colleagues, union supporters in October made their organizing campaign public.
The letter, signed by 44 news staff employees, said that the Times needed a union “to safeguard the future of the Los Angeles Times and improve newsroom conditions.”
Times management countered with its own aggressive anti-union campaign.
Despite management’s active resistance, union supporters won 85 percent of the votes.
After the results of the vote were announced, the organizing committee issued a press release.
“We’ve long been a proud voice for our readers,” said the committee. “Finally, we can be a proud voice for ourselves. Anyone familiar with the history of The Times — and of Los Angeles itself — knows the significance of what we’ve just accomplished.”
The history of the Times has been a mixture of journalistic excellence, management’s anti-union rancor, and in recent years, a takeover by outsiders with little interests in maintaining the paper’s high standards.
The Columbia Journalism Review (CSJ) reports that the Time’s antipathy toward unions began more than a century ago when the Chandler family, “one of the most powerful and anti-union families in Southern California” ran the paper.
Otis Chandler became the paper’s publisher in 1960. He retained his family’s anti-union stance while transforming the Times into a well-respected newspaper that produced quality reporting.
In 2000, the Chandlers sold the Times to the Chicago-based Tribune Publishing company, which rebranded itself in 2016 as Tronc.
According to CSJ, before the Times was sold, it was thriving financially, but after the sale, the paper’s “pages and staff fell prey to endless cuts and carvings by bean counters in Chicago.”
The cuts and carvings reduced newsroom staff from 1200 to less than 500.
Staff reductions created an unstable work environment and an excessive workload for those who remained. As a result morale plummeted.
To make matters worse, newsroom staff hadn’t received a cost of living raise since 2010, and pay for women and people of color lagged behind.
Moreover, while the paper itself and the community it serves were becoming more diverse, the paper’s top leadership remained predominately male and white.
These conditions led a group in the newsroom to start talking about forming a union.
The group contacted NewsGuild-CWA, formed an organizing committee, and announced publicly in October that they were organizing a union.
The organizing committee collected signed union authorization cards from 70 percent of the newsroom staff and in December petitioned the NLRB for a union representation election.
Tronc’s management team at the Times, led by former Yahoo executive Ross Levinsohn, fought back.
Among other things, management claimed that organizing committee members wanted to improve wages and benefits for young workers at the expense of older workers.
The union responded with its own outreach campaign. Using the internet, social media, and one-on-one discussions, organizing committee members told their colleagues that a union would improve conditions for all, not a select few.
Management also told staff that a union wouldn’t help them get better pay and benefits because the company didn’t have enough money.
The organizing campaign conducted some investigative reporting and found that Tronc had more than enough money to improve pay and working conditions, but instead of doing so, Tronc’s top executives were lavishing themselves with excessive pay and expensive perks.
“Executive compensation (at Tronc) shot up by 80 percent last year,” reported the organizing committee.
Tronc’s CEO Justin Dearborn in 2016 was paid $8.1 million in total compensation, “substantially more than his counterparts at the New York Times Co., Gannett Corp, Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, and McClatchy.”
Tronc’s Chairman Michael Ferro traveled in a private jet that cost Tronc $4.6 million between February 2016 and September 2017.
Tronc subleased the jet from Merrick Ventures, a company owned by Ferro.
Before the union election took place, union supporters tweeted why they were voting yes for the union.
Jaweed Kaleem, who covers race and justice issues for the Times said he wanted a more equitable and just place to work.
“Our newspaper has no problem pointing out inequalities outside our building. It’s time to seriously address them inside — locking in pay, benefits and editorial independence,” wrote Kaleem.
Business reporter Geoffrey Mohan tweeted, “After three decades in journalism, I won’t stand by while outside, nouveau investors try to turn local journalism into a sweatshop. I support @latguild.”
After their victory was announced, the union organizing committee said that the next step will to be for union members to elect a negotiating team to bargain with the Times management.
The new union laid out what it wants to accomplish at the bargaining table.
“We know what we want. It’s nothing extraordinary. Regular raises to keep up with the cost of inflation. Better parental leave policies. Equal pay and better treatment for women and journalists of color. Just-cause firing protections. Better severance packages. A voice to safeguard our ethical standards and the quality of our journalism.
In short, “a fair shake from management.”