Eighty-five percent of the LA Times newsroom employees voted for the first time in 136 years to unionize under the Commercial Workers of America.
The Los Angeles Times over the last two decades has been through multiple buyouts, a bankruptcy, revolving door for management, massive cost cutting, lawsuits and no newsroom-wide salary increases for almost a decade. Newsroom workers voted to unionize under the NewsGuild-CWA by a majority vote of 248 to 44 in a Jan. 19, election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.
The LA Times was known for over a century of anti-union politics. The entrance at the Times building features a libertarian eagle over the famed publisher Harrison Otis Chandler vision statement: “Equal Rights, True Industrial Freedom”
Otis Chandler led the paper’s opposition to union violence during Pullman Railroad strike of 1894, and the associated boycott that led to 250,000 walking off the job and Midwest rail traffic suspended for two months. With crops rotting and the nation careening into depression, Chandler supported calling out the troops that broke the strike after hundreds of railcars were burned and 30 people killed by rioting strikers.
A union member of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers retaliated in 1910 against the LA Times’ anti-union editorials by using 16 sticks to dynamite the Times Building at Broadway and First Street. The newspaper called the explosion and fire that killed 21 people and injured hundreds, the “Crime of the Century”.
The Times-Mirror Company was purchased by the Chicago’s Tribune Company in 2000. The philosophy of the paper started reflecting its owner’s liberal bias and California newsroom staffing was slashed. The Tribune filed for bankruptcy reorganization in 2008, and then control went through several corporate raiders.
Chicago activist hedge fund HG Vora Capital Management’s Michael Ferro’s took control of Tribune Publishing via a $44 million stock buy in Feb. 2016 and made himself Chairman. He claimed that “leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve user experience” would turn the Times into a “global entertainment brand.” He renamed the newspaper company Tronc Inc., short for Tribune Online Content.
Pew Research reported that newspaper circulation revenue has continued to rise over the last decade to $10.9 billion, but advertising revenue has plunged from $55 billion to about $12 billion.
The NewsGuild website says it represents 25,000 journalists 200 media companies. NewsGuild claims that new media companies they organized in recent years like Gizmodo, Vice Media, and the Huffington Post demonstrate that unionization will make the LA Times more competitive in the digital age.
Tronc had no comment about when negotiations would begin for a union contract, but LA Times publisher Ross Levinsohn is taking a voluntary unpaid leave while the company investigates misconduct allegations.