BY ROBERT JABLON
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Times journalists have voted to unionize for the first time in the newspaper’s 136-year history, while its chief executive on Friday took an unpaid leave of absence amid allegations of improper behavior.
A National Labor Relations Board tally found that newsroom workers voted 248 to 44 for representation by NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America. The vote was taken on Jan. 4.
The union must now negotiate for a collective bargaining agreement. The union said it will seek better pay and benefits as well as “pay equity for women and people of color, greater diversity and better working conditions” for reporters, copy editors, graphic artists and photographers.
“This was a long time coming, and we’re all thrilled that this has finally happened,” Kristina Bui, a Times copy editor and union organizer, told the newspaper. “The newsroom has put up with so much disruption and mismanagement, and this vote just underscores how much of a say we need to have in the decision-making process. The newsroom is demanding a seat at the bargaining table.”
“We respect the outcome of the election and look forward to productive conversations with union leadership as we move forward,” Times owner Tronc Inc., said in a statement. “We remain committed to ensuring that the Los Angeles Times is a leading source for news and information and to producing the award-winning journalism our readers rely on.”
Most major news organizations in the United States, including The Associated Press, are unionized and digital media such as the Huffington Post also have seen successful organizing efforts.
Meanwhile, Tronc said Friday that CEO and publisher Ross Levinsohn is taking an unpaid leave of absence while the company investigates allegations that engaged in “frat-boy” behavior when he was an executive at other companies joining the Times on Aug. 21.
National Public Radio reported the allegations on Thursday and said Levinsohn was a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits that have been settled. Some Times employees have called for Levinsohn to be fired.
The Times has had five publishers in the past five years. That has contributed to rising discontent in the newsroom, which also saw jobs slashed and benefits cut as the Times struggled with declining advertising revenues and circulation in the face of online competition.
Times daily circulation is now under 274,000, down from a high of more than 1 million in 1990.
Times union organizers also were incensed that while staff benefits were being cut, Tronc last month signed a $5 million-a-year contract with a consulting business owned by its chairman, Michael Ferro.
Tronc fought Times organizing efforts. A day before the vote, the paper’s editor-in-chief and former interim executive editor sent employees an email arguing that “a union won’t solve most of the problems endemic to our industry.”
The Times was owned for much of its history by the Chandler family and the paper was fervently anti-union. In 2000 it was sold to the Tribune Co., which went through a period of bankruptcy and turmoil. The company spun off its publishing arm as Tribune Publishing in 2014, which was later renamed Tronc, for Tribune Online Content.
Chicago-based Tronc is the nation’s third-largest newspaper publisher and its properties include many venerable papers, including the Chicago Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune, New York Daily News, Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun.
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