By:
June 11, 2021

Journalists at the Southern California News Group, which includes 11 papers owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital, have voted to unionize 64-19.

The National Labor Relations Board counted the votes Friday afternoon and confirmed that staff at the papers, which collectively cover four counties and receive 17.6 million unique online visitors each month, can proceed as the SCNG Guild.

The union includes roughly 140 journalists at the (Torrance) Daily Breeze, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Los Angeles Daily News, The Orange County Register, Pasadena Star-News, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, (Long Beach) Press-Telegram, Redlands Daily Facts, San Bernardino Sun, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Whittier Daily News.

Staff at the papers first went public with their union drive in February, stating that layoffs and turnover had “devastated” their workforce and hurt their ability to cover local communities. They unionized to secure higher pay and better benefits.

“We face historic staffing shortages, and the exodus of journalists with decades of experience has hollowed out our newspapers. These cuts leave us less able to provide the quality product we owe our readers,” reads the SCNG Guild mission statement.

Alden, which owns approximately 70 papers through its MediaNews Group, has grown a reputation in the journalism industry for buying up papers and cutting newsroom staff. The hedge fund recently bought Tribune Publishing for $633 million, making it the nation’s second-largest newspaper chain after Gannett.

Before the purchase, unions at the Tribune papers sought desperately for a different buyer. Maryland hotel chain executive Stewart Bainum Jr. tried to assemble a group to outbid Alden but failed when Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss changed his mind after seeing details about the Chicago Tribune’s finances. Just days after Tribune shareholders approved the Alden deal, the hedge fund began offering buyouts to employees at its newly acquired papers.

Shortly after the SCNG Guild requested voluntary recognition, the Southern California News Group argued that certain positions — copy editors, graphic artists, page designers, and social media and digital producers — should not be allowed to join the union. Those positions comprise approximately 44 people.

In response, the union launched a #1Newsroom1Union campaign on social media, arguing that people in the disputed positions are also journalists and should be allowed to unionize with their colleagues who are reporters, photographers and clerks. The two sides appeared in front of the NLRB in March for a hearing, and the board ruled in the union’s favor.

“SCNG Guild will now bargain for better pay, benefits and working conditions for all,” the union tweeted Friday after the vote count. “Wages have remained stagnant for most working at these papers. Many have gone without true raises to their pay in years, even as the cost of living in the L.A. area has risen. We have to fight!”

The media industry has seen a record number of newspapers unionize over the past few years. Since the start of 2021, at least 30 newsrooms have announced union drives. Union leaders say job insecurity and general instability within the journalism industry have driven this trend.

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Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
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