Los Angeles Times Newsroom, Challenging Tronc, Goes Public With Union Push

Newsroom employees at The Los Angeles Times are trying to form a union, setting up a potential clash with the newspaper’s parent company, Tronc. Cost-cutting measures, including sweeping layoffs, have agitated the staff. Last year, Tronc instituted an abrupt change to the vacation policy that effectively eliminated accrued vacation days, according to several employees interviewed.
Sydney Ember
October 4, 2017

Newsroom employees at The Los Angeles Times are trying to form a union, setting up a potential clash with the newspaper’s parent company, Tronc.

After months of organizing, the committee behind the push for a union drafted a one-page letter laying out its reasoning and left printouts on employees’ desks Tuesday night.

The unsigned letter calls for improved working conditions, higher pay, more generous benefits and protections for staff members against “unilateral change by Tronc.”

The letter also says “a majority of the newsroom” had signed union cards supporting representation by the NewsGuild, which represents 25,000 reporters, editors, photojournalists and other media workers at news organizations across the United States.

Several people involved in the organizing push, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared losing their jobs if they were to speak publicly about the effort, put the number of those who had signed the union cards at roughly 200.

“Yearly raises have become a thing of the past,” the letter says. “Talented journalists who want to build careers here have left for better pay and opportunities at other news outlets.”

In August, Tronc abruptly ousted top newsroom leaders at The Times, including Davan Maharaj, who had been the publisher and editor since March 2016. Other leaders at the paper, including Marc Duvoisin, a managing editor; Megan Garvey, the deputy managing editor for digital; and Matt Doig, the assistant managing editor for investigations, were also fired.

The attempt to form a union, which began late last year, is very likely to aggravate relations between Times employees and Tronc management.

Tronc, which has its headquarters in Chicago and was previously known as Tribune Publishing, has installed newsroom leaders who have not endeared themselves to those in the Los Angeles newsroom.

Cost-cutting measures, including sweeping layoffs, have agitated the staff. Last year, Tronc instituted an abrupt change to the vacation policy that effectively eliminated accrued vacation days, according to several employees interviewed. That change, these employees said, had helped motivate the union drive.

It is not unusual for management to bristle at efforts to organize employees, and Tronc is no exception. After the company learned of the talk in the newsroom, Times managers distributed fliers that warned of the supposed pitfalls of unionization.

“There is no obligation on the part of a company to continue existing benefits and it is not against the law for the company to offer reduced wages and benefits in bargaining,” one flier said, in bold, capital letters. The flier, which was obtained by The New York Times, featured a clip-art drawing of a person standing on two dice.

Tronc also held a meeting with Times managers in a glass-walled conference room in the newsroom, during which company representatives unveiled a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points for countering the unionization effort, according to several employees. In group and one-on-one meetings with journalists, Times editors, at Tronc’s instruction, have made it clear that anyone who joined a union might have to renegotiate his or her benefits, the employees said.

Tronc did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the letter distributed to the newsroom, the organizing committee listed a number of conditions it wanted to negotiate, including annual staffwide pay raises, guaranteed minimum salaries, and equal pay for men and women and minorities.

Workers at many of the country’s biggest news outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, are represented by unions. Employees at several digital news outlets, including HuffPost and Vice Media, are also unionized.

The first organizing meeting among Los Angeles Times newsroom employees occurred last spring. In August, after the shake-up involving top editors and executives, about 100 Times journalists gathered in a conference room at a Doubletree Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where some workers made the case for a union.

October 4, 2017