A majority of newsroom staffers at the Los Angeles Times, the country’s fourth-largest newspaper by circulation, have signed cards in support of representation by NewsGuild, they announced on Wednesday. The staffers are now asking tronc, the paper’s Chicago-based parent company, to voluntary recognize the union.
“As journalists, we take enormous pride in the award-winning work we produce: investigating corruption, covering the communities we live in and, at times, putting our lives on the line to bring the news to our readers,” the Times’ organizing committee wrote on its newly launched website. “Our work is the core of the Los Angeles Times, and we deserve a seat at the table in decisions affecting our pay, benefits and working conditions.”
The organizing committee formally introduced itself to the newsroom this morning in a letter left on staffers’ desks, as shared on Twitter by Times national reporter Matt Pearce:
In addition to codifying some existing benefits in a new contract, the organizing committee said its aims include the following:
- 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
Tronc, a publicly owned company that owns newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, and Baltimore Sun, did not respond to Splinter’s request for comment. I’ll update this post if and when they do.
But early indication is that the guttural-sounding conglomerate may not recognize NewsGuild without a fight. Representatives from tronc met with Times editors in recent weeks to lay out strategy for their anti-union campaign, according to a staffer involved with the organizing committee. Editors have since held small meetings with staffers, the source added, and distributed a flyer with standard anti-union talking points.
“It was responding to arguments we weren’t making,” the Times staffer said, alluding to a warning from tronc that a union would turn contract negotiations into a “two-way street.” “Right now, bargaining is a one-way street in which decisions are made unilaterally and then handed down to people. A two-way street is something we actually want.”
The effort at the Times comes as a slew of digital media outlets have similarly unionized amid an unforgiving market for advertising dollars. Outlets including Gizmodo Media Group, Vice Media, and HuffPost have in recent years organized with the Writers Guild of America-East. Staffers at other publications, including Slate and DNAInfo-Gothamist, have experienced stiff resistance to unionization efforts from their nominally progressive management.
NewsGuild also represents newsroom staffers at outlets that include The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian US, among others. But such an effort would be particularly notable at the Los Angeles Times. The paper was notorious for its anti-labor stance in the early 20th century, so much so that radical steelworkers bombed its building in 1910, killing 21. The newspaper would eventually grow into a juggernaut of American journalism in the following several decades under longtime ownership by powerful Angeleno conservatives, the Chandler family.
In 2000, the paper’s parent company was bought by Chicago-based Tribune Publishing—another company with deeply conservative roots. The merger that followed ushered in an ongoing period of revolving leadership, strategic chaos, and repeated bloodletting to reduce costs. The company has more recently attempted an amorphous rebrand as tronc, a new-media company seeking global scale for digital advertisers. In August, it removed the Times’ polarizing editor and publisher, Davan Maharaj, and many of his lieutenants in a masthead purge.
The union drive, which began informally late last year, accelerated in earnest following Maharaj’s departure, the Times staffer told me. The organizing committee is now trying to convince remaining holdouts that a union would provide some measure of stability at one of the most volatile news organizations in the country.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated The Guardian US’ union affiliation.