Could it be that the worm is finally turning?
On Friday, January 19, it was announced that journalists, copy editors, and other workers at the LA Times, long regarded as one of this country’s great daily newspapers, had voted to join a union. Why was this particular election so special? Because it marked the first time in the paper’s 136 year history that its employees had ever been represented by a union.
According to the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board), which monitored the election and counted the votes, Times employees, by a whopping mandate of 284-44, voted to affiliate with the NewsGuild-CWA (Communication Workers of America).
As for being regarded as a “great” newspaper, people can quibble all they like, but they can’t deny the fact that the Times’ unambiguously anti-union, pro-corporate ownership (beginning with the Chandler family) was able to largely keep the editorial side independent and separated from the business side.
Besides regularly endorsing Democratic candidates over Republicans in state and national elections, the LA Times has featured such left-wing columnists as Harry Bernstein, Robert Scheer and the late, great Alexander Cockburn. I was privileged to meet Harry Bernstein in the 1980s, during an industrial strike, and began a long and gratifying correspondence with him.
As for the new union, its first order of business—before local union officers even sit down to negotiate its inaugural contract—was to request that Tronc, Inc. (since 2000, the parent company of the Times, and also the owners of, among others, the Chicago Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune, and Orlando Sentinel) fire Ross Levinsohn, the paper’s despised publisher and CEO, who’s been accused of blatant sexual harassment and other misconduct.
Levinsohn, a slick, photogenic corporate creature with a winning smile, a marketing and public relations background, and virtually no experience as a reporter, journalist or anything resembling a “newspaper man,” has been accused of encouraging a male chauvinistic “frat boy” environment at the paper. Levinsohn himself has twice been named as defendant in lawsuits alleging sexual harassment.
Of course, for anyone who has followed the tortuous anti-union history of the LA Times, October 1, 1910, will forever be regarded as the ruination of any chance management and labor had for reaching any kind of agreement. It was on that date that over-zealous, pro-union thugs planted dynamite at Times headquarters.
The explosion and subsequent fire wound up killing 21 people, and injuring more than 100 others. The LA Times, which referred to the dynamiting as the “crime of the century,” has remained stubbornly, almost “metaphysically,” non-union ever since. Until last Friday.
In 1911, two members of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers, brothers James and Joseph McNamara, were charged with the bombing. Due to the intensity and vehemence of the Times’ anti-union crusade, the case became a cause celebre of the labor movement.
The AFL (American Federation of Labor) hired noted attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the brothers. Before going to trial, James pleaded guilty to setting the bomb, and was sentenced to life in prison.
So now the LA Times has joined the proud, collectivist ranks of the unionized. It was a huge move, an historic move, one that will finally offer the employees an active voice in determining their own fate. In any event, it has to be taken as a major step forward for whatever remains of the American labor movement.