October 6, 2017
Journalists at the LA Times are attempting to form a union
by Simon Reichley
On Wednesday morning, LA Times national correspondent Matt Pearce posted this photo of a letter announcing a public campaign to unionize the paper’s newsroom:
The Los Angeles Times is unionizing. A note left on everyone's desk this morning: pic.twitter.com/5iFqr7ONOK
— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) October 4, 2017
The letter formalizes a union drive that began last year, and that, according to a NewsGuild statement of support, has met with immediate resistance from Times management, who’ve “distributed anti-union fliers and held meetings with employees warning them of alleged dire consequences if they formed a union.”
If successfully formed, the LA Times union would join the growing ranks of NewsGuild member organizations, marking an important development in the ongoing corporate consolidation of news dailies around the country. Current NewsGuild members include the New York Times, Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos), Wall Street Journal (News Corp), and Baltimore Sun (tronc).
According to the mission statement posted at the LA Times Guild website, the broad goals of the organizing committee are to “be compensated fairly for our hard work, our skills and our depth of experience… to halt the rampant turnover and knowledge flight that has destabilized our newsroom… [and] to address stagnant wages, pay disparities and declining benefits.”
Of course, nothing is certain. As David Uberti at Splinter News reports, tronc has already put in motion a union-busting operation, and a successful bid for unionization would be a startling development considering the long history of anti-union sentiment at the LA Times.
But, given the frightening precarity of the industry over the last decade and a half, the goals of the Times organizing committe must sound pretty appealing to potential members: they promise to fight for parental leave, fair pay, and guarantees against unilateral layoffs, among other provisions.
As we noted earlier in the year, after tronc had metastasized to the Chicago Sun-Times, the brutal downsizing and layoffs that almost always follow corporate acquisition of local news organizations pose tremendous dangers to the national media ecosystem, and should terrify anyone interested in maintaining the transparency and accountability of our civic institutions. It is very unlikely that the current Department of Justice’s antitrust division, led by erstwhile Comcast shill Makan Delrahim, will be a reliable deterrent to tronc and their ilk, which makes a strong union movement all the more vital.
Here’s the text of the letter in full:
After 135 years of service, the journalists of the Los Angeles Times are forming a union.
A majority of the newsroom has already signed cards supporting representation by the NewsGuild, and we look forward to gathering more signatures in the weeks ahead.
Our supporters are award-winning journalists across every department who have dedicated — and at times, risked — their lives to server our readers and to better informa our city, state and country.
Unfortunately, producing this kind of journalism has gotten harder.
Yearly raises have become a thing of the past. Talented journalists who want to build careers here have left for better pay and opportunities at other news outlets. We have few job protections at a time of high uncertainty in our industry. Our benefits cost far more than they used to.
We have two main goals.
First, we want to keep the benefits and conditions we like and protect them from unilateral change by Tronc [sic]. Second, there are aspects of our pay, benefits and working conditions where we think we can negotiate a better deal.
Working together, we can fight for a better and more equitable workplace, including:
• Annual staff-wide salary increases and guaranteed minimum salaries
• Accrued vacation for all employees
• Competitive parental leave for mothers and fathers
• Equal pay for men and women and equal pay for journalists of color
• Fair notice of layoffs, guaranteed severance packages, and recall rights
More than 25,000 journalists and media workers are already represented by the NewsGuild, including newsrooms at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Baltimore Sun, Reuters and the Associated Press.
Help us make history and keep doing the work that made the Los Angeles Times one of the most respected names in journalism.
So, to our sisters and brothers in the Times newsroom: solidarity!
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.