October 24, 2017 Last Updated 2:55 pm

LA Times union organizing team goes public in push to get tronc to voluntarily recognize union

Responding to continued cuts, the LAT Organizing Committee looks to have the newsroom join the NewsGuild, which currently represents The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major news organizations

The group attempting to unionize the newsroom at the Los Angeles Times today officially revealed their identities and will continue efforts to receive official recognition from the publishing company, tronc. You can read the press release from the organizing committee below, as well as the company’s memo to staff opposing the organizing effort.

For those who worked in the newspaper business in the eighties and before, this is quite an interesting development.

I joined Hearst’s Herald Examiner right out of J school in 1981. At that time the paper was still trying to recover from a strike that began at the end of 1967, when the paper’s circulation was over 700,000, and finally ended in early 1977, when the paper’s circulation had fallen by half. When the paper closed in November of 1989 I was already working in Northern California, but many of the reports said the paper had not recovered from the strike, but really it had not recovered from Hearst’s response to the union, because even though the strike had been effectively broken, a new union replaced it, and the no one really won the fight.

Publications are unionized when the employees feel they are not begin treated fairly. That doesn’t always simply mean pay, it often reflects the way the publication is being run. In the case of the LA Times effort, the LAT Organizing Committee say the goals are “to safeguard the future of the Los Angeles Times and improve newsroom conditions.”

During my time at Hearst, the newsroom was actually the least interested in supporting the union, the print shop and advertising being the most vocally supportive of union activities. I was elected to be shop steward during the last contract negotiations that took place during my tenure at the Herald Examiner, and while pay was the final hurdle to reaching a deal, much more time was spent on issues that were important to the members, and not at all of interest to the company (who really wanted to get to the financial part of the negotiations).

I found myself a pretty vocal advocate for the demands being made by some of my union colleagues who just wanted policy changes that they felt would not only be of benefit to the staff but to the newspaper, as well. It didn’t matter, management was going to fight every demand, but in the end we usually got what we wanted because the company realized that things being demanded would not cost anything, and they really were good ideas. After that we negotiated a very small raise and the company probably felt they won because the new contract numbers was not onerous, and union members knew a strike would not be helpful to anyone.

What must be weighing on LA Times staffers is the constant layoffs, numerous management changes, as well as the less than credible ownership. What a union could accomplish I do not know because I am not involved in LA newspaper publishing any longer. But the LA Times would not be only media company to have been unionized in the past few years, should the organizers succeed. Digital brands such as The Huffington Post, Gawker, Fusion, The Guardian US and The Intercept are among some of the digital newsrooms organized recently.

Here is the press release from the LAT Organizing Committee, as well as the memo from Jim Kirk, Interim Executive Editor at the LA Times:


Los Angeles, Calif. – October 24, 2017 — Today, in a letter to their colleagues, the 50-member organizing committee leading the fight to unionize the LA Times newsroom officially revealed their identities in what is the latest major development in their efforts to join the NewsGuild. In recent years, the LA Times newsroom has endured massive cuts – today the newsroom editorial staff is less than 500 from over 1,000 in 2001. This effort comes at a time when tumultuous, and often hostile, forces are affecting newsrooms and journalists throughout the country.

Tronc, the LA Times’ parent company, has shown resistance to their organizing efforts, even circulating an anti-union memo stating reasons why the newsroom shouldn’t organize. The organizing committee will ask Tronc to voluntarily recognize the union, but will push for a vote should they refuse.


Dear Colleagues,

Over the past six weeks, this newsroom has shown why it is among the best in the world. The breaking news of the Las Vegas shooting and the subsequent heart-breaking tales of loss and uplifting stories of heroism; the catastrophes of hurricanes and an earthquake here and abroad; and the incredible fire story happening in this state which we’ve covered so thoroughly and authoritatively. The investigative work and storytelling from every desk here has been nothing short of amazing. And now this (hopefully) magical story of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ run for that elusive pennant and, just maybe this time, that World Series title.

Add to that the breathtaking photography and videography, powerful digital storytelling from our graphics, data and audience engagement teams, a highly skilled copy desk and team of designers, and a hard- charging Hub that works with all our news desks to keep us first and best on the stories that matter most to our readers.

It takes a team of incredible journalists to do the work we are doing daily. Constantly. And it takes a workplace that embraces this work and spotlights it and encourages it to do the best it can.

Organizations do well when they talk and work together and embrace the change needed to be successful now and long into the future. We are striving to be that workplace.

When Ross talks about transparency, it isn’t lip-service. He means it. It is why he feels communication is important in this and every workplace.

We understand over the past several months, there has been a campaign by the News Guild to encourage employees here to unionize. In recent weeks, you’ve seen literature from the union using selective statements designed to convince you to join. All of us as journalists know that we need to look at all the facts before completing a story. So, we wanted to provide the full picture so that you can make your own assessment.

We can say with certainty that if the union is voted in, the company will bargain in good faith and will attempt to reach mutual agreement. However, it is important to remember that the union cannot provide any wages, benefits or working conditions to you without the company’s agreement. The current terms and conditions of employment at the Los Angeles Times will remain in place while a contract is negotiated. But once the union opens up negotiations, it opens up all terms and conditions and, if history is a guide, the results are often mixed.

Some of you have faced the choice of whether or not to unionize this newsroom in the past. Much has changed recently and we continue to make strong progress on a number of fronts. We are investing heavily in reshaping our technology to extend our journalism across multiple platforms. The Los Angeles Times is the first tronc company to have access to the Arc Publishing technology developed by The Washington Post and used by The Post and dozens of other news organizations across the world.

Also importantly: Since Ross’ arrival we have increased our communication through emails from senior management, town halls and lunchtime feedback sessions. We will continue to encourage ongoing, two-way and collaborative communication.

I truly believe it is an exciting time to be part of the Los Angeles Times. Here are some other facts you may want to consider as you decide whether or not to unionize.

COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS

Unionization has had mixed results in obtaining better salaries and benefits. If a union is voted in, a contract has to be negotiated and everything that is related to “wages, hours and working conditions (including benefits such as 401k, time-off, Short-Term Disability, etc.)” is up for negotiation. Please remember that nothing that exists now is guaranteed and we have seen both positive and negative outcomes within tronc and across the industry.

Most contracts have a dues deduction provision. Of those that do not, most collect dues by another method. As an example, for the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, their dues are based on their weekly salary compensation. The higher the weekly pay, the higher the dues. It is also a fact that all four tronc Guild-represented newsrooms receive a level of benefits that is different, and not always better, than our non- union employees. As an example, Guild-represented employees at the Pioneer Press and the Lake County News-Sun are not eligible for the company 401k contribution match, something we currently have here at the Los Angeles Times.

FLEXIBILITY

Unionization could also change the way the newsroom works, including the flexibility supervisors now have to allow some people to work at home or take paid time off, and to grant certain types of leave. With a union, you will have an outside third party representing you. Also, those benefits will be up for negotiation in a contract, and the company has the right to seek concessions from the union in exchange for benefits given.

SECURITY

Unionization may not protect anyone from economic-related layoffs. It also may not protect jobs based on seniority. These are issues that will be up for negotiation between the company and the union.

TRONC AND UNIONS

When deciding if the union is right for you, please assess the Guild’s track record. It is especially relevant to look at tronc’s negotiations with its 13 bargaining units.

One example: reporters at The Baltimore Sun were not eligible for the last 2.5% salary increase given to all non-Guild tronc newsroom employees, including at the Los Angeles Times. Due to the three contracts the union negotiated in 2011, 2014 and 2016, the team at The Baltimore Sunhas not received a general increase since June 2013 and is not eligible for such an increase through at least June 2019 when their current contract expires – which will mean they have gone without a general increase for five years.

CONTRACT

History has shown that there is no guarantee that a union will be able to successfully negotiate a contract. While a union can make lots of promises, it can only provide its members with what tronc is willing to give.

We value all of our employees. We understand that these issues are incredibly important to you, and they are equally important to us. Every employee is part of the lifeblood of this organization. For that reason, please ask the important questions about the News Guild, look at all of the facts and assess what it all means for this newsroom, and for you.

Most importantly, we ask that if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to talk to me or any manager, some of whom have experience working in a union shop. As I said at the outset, a team is only successful when it is able and willing to communicate. The door is open.

Thanks for taking the time to read and consider. And thank you for your extraordinary work.

Sincerely, Jim

Jim Kirk
Interim Executive Editor, Los Angeles Times

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