Los Angeles Times newsroom votes to go union amid growing corporate tumult

In an historic move, newsroom workers at the Los Angeles Times have voted overwhelmingly to go union and will now bargain over a first contract with a management convulsed by the media's latest sex harassment ignominy.

By a 248-44 vote, editorial employees cast their lot with the NewsGuild, ending the long tradition of by and large paternalistic labor relations associated with the iconic southern California organization. 

“Today we made history. For the first time since the Los Angeles Times printed its inaugural edition in 1881, our journalists have voted to form a union," members of the lead committee said in a statement to colleagues.

“We’ve long been a proud voice for our readers. Finally, we can be a proud voice for ourselves. Anyone familiar with the history of The Times — and of Los Angeles itself — knows the significance of what we’ve just accomplished.”

Depending on what side of the labor-management divide you're on, their timing couldn't be better, or worse.

The mistrust that has fueled the union vote is only aggravated by NPR's Thursday disclosure of sex harassment allegations and settlements involving Ross Levinsohn, picked by parent company Tronc to be the paper's publisher last August.  

In theory, that might conceivably strengthen the union's hand when it sits down to negotiate a contract. It's a process that the company's management had hoped to avoid via rejection of the union move. Friday's formal count of votes at the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private sector representation elections, upended that wishful thinking.

For Tronc, and its idiosyncratic leader Michael Ferro, a Chicago tech entrepreneur, both the pro-union vote and the executive untidiness constitute a big mess. It was only the day before that Levinsohn was touting a new digital strategy at an investor conference. 

Now he's the subject of an internal investigation in a local media-entertainment culture fixated on the topic of sexual harassment following the New York Times' disclosures about Hollywood kingpin Harvey Weinstein.
 
The election count comes amid a surprise flurry of unionization in the media industry, with the most notable arguably being among new digital news operations.

For example, 400 editorial workers at Vox Media, one of the editorially strongest of digital news newcomers, recently opted for unionization. They will be represented by the Writers Guild of America, East.

The union now also represents digital news staffs at VICE, HuffPost, The Intercept, Gizmodo Media Group (Splinter, Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin, The Root, Lifehacker, Kotaku, io9, Jalopnik, Earther), ThinkProgress, MTV News, Thrillist and Salon. 

The newspaper industry was once heavily unionized, though labor's influence waned in recent decades amid rapid technology change and the implosion of business models.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former chief media writer, The Poynter Institute.

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