As economic inequality and stories about extreme corporate greed make stunning headlines, the organized labor movement may be heading for a comeback.
After 136 years in business, journalists at The Los Angeles Times began casting ballots in a union election earlier this month, with more than 200 newsroom employees voting and ballots will be counted today. Forming a union requires a simple majority of votes cast.
Like workers in many other industries, Los Angeles Times employees have gone many years without as much as a modest cost-of-living raise even as Tronc and The Times have been profitable.
L.A. Times reporters, copy editors and graphic artists tweeted selfies with pro-union messages and words of support from readers, union members and other supporters arrived steadily.
Workers are calling for more competitive salaries, equitable pay for women and minorities, more generous benefits and improved working conditions at the company, .
People familiar with the process said they believe organizers had the votes to let about 380 employees join the NewsGuild, which represents 25,000 reporters, editors, photojournalists and other news media workers across the United States.
The union vote resulted from tensions between newsroom employees and the newspaper’s executives, which have been repeated amid management and ownership turmoil over recent years.
Tronc, the Chicago-based corporate parent, installed a new publisher, Ross Levinsohn, and editor in chief, Lewis D’Vorkin, who has vowed a “digital transformation” that has irked many journalists.
Management has been called inordinately aggressive in its attempt to thwart the effort to organize newsroom employees.
During a staff meeting in November, D’Vorkin said anyone involved with leaking a recording of an earlier meeting to a reporter from The New York Times, was “morally bankrupt,” according to several people at the Califormia newspaper.
“Our recent change of newsroom leadership provided our managers a brief opportunity to restore some trust. They chose not to try,” Doug Smith, a senior writer who has worked at The Times for nearly 50 years, wrote in a post in support of the union. “For the first time in my nearly five decades at The Times, I, along with my colleagues, have been publicly scolded by my publisher and by my editor.”
As newsroom employees prepared for the election, the union organizing committee has tried to combat Tronc’s anti-union push by reporting on The Times and the compensation and perks its leaders receive.
In November, the union published a report about profits lavished on the salaries and perks for richly compensated Tronc executives executives, such as Michael W. Ferro Jr., the company’s chairman.
The Columbia Journalism Review noted that executive compensation at Tronc shot up 80% last year — a nearly $9 million jump over 2015.
A NewsGuild analysis of Tronc’s SEC filings, disclosed that — even as some employees have not received raises in years — Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn made an eye-popping $8.1 million in total compensation, Tronc CFO Terry Jimenez made $4.2 million and Levinsohn was paid $2 million last year.
Tronc had been pushing for the election to be held in mid-December, before the SEC documents disclosed the salary agreements and an arrangement in which Tronc spent $4.6 million from February 2016 through September to sublease and operate a Bombardier aircraft for Ferro, the board chairman and owner of nearly a 17 percent stake in the publishing company.
Workers at many of the country’s prominent news publications, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, are represented by unions.
There have been recent organizing efforts at digital news companies; workers at several of which, including HuffPost and Vice Media, are now union members.
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