Who we are and why we are doing this
Why are people organizing a union?
We are organizing our union to have a voice in our newsroom. Our industry is changing rapidly. We all deserve a say in decisions that directly affect our livelihoods and our working conditions. We need a seat at the table. A union will give us a strong, unified voice and force the company to negotiate in good faith over the terms and conditions of our jobs.
Who’s leading this effort?
We are. We are the Los Angeles Times, and we are the union. We have broad support across every department in the newsroom, in every age, racial and ethnic group. We have built a solid majority in the newsroom, and this majority grows every day.
I’ve seen organizing efforts start and stall before. What’s different this time?
It’s true that there have been attempts to organize before. The difference this time is that we have the capacity, willingness and resources to actually build an effective union. This attempt has much more support and momentum. It started with a handful of people, as every pervious attempt did, but now a majority of our co-workers are actively organizing and ready to vote yes when the time comes.
How unionizing could affect compensation
Creating salary minimums for various positions is sure to cost the company a lot of money. Can the company use this to justify more buyouts or layoffs, or other cost reductions?
We believe the company has the money to close wage gaps and grant everyone annual raises, no matter what they earn now. We know that our publisher is making a starting salary of $1 million, plus a $1-million potential annual bonus, and he has been granted at least $5.2 million in Tronc shares. We also know there is a lot of wasteful spending, including on poorly thought-out Tronc initiatives. And we know that the company pressures us to use up vacation time to get it off the books, with the implication it will help stave off layoffs, only to then reward executives with bonuses.
We expect the company to come to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith with us, as federal law requires. Figuring out what this will cost and where the money will come from is part of the bargaining process. A union gives us the power to call the company on any bluff about its finances. Without a union, we have to take management at its word. If the money isn’t there, the company can make that case in a transparent manner and we can adjust our bargaining positions accordingly.
I don’t want my pay to get cut just because I’m making more than others, and I want to be able to negotiate my own raises.
No one wants to reduce your salary if you’ve negotiated individually for more than the minimum. Our goal is to lift everyone’s salary.
Further, a contract would not prevent you as an individual from negotiating for a raise. But now, most people only get raises by getting a job offer from another company. If this doesn’t work, we often lose that talent to our competitors. The solution is to build in mandatory raises with set pay floors so that employees would be regularly rewarded for their skills, experience and time at the company. Another part of the solution would be yearly cost of living increases, which are routine in union contracts found at other news outlets.
I’m uncomfortable with a salary study. What I make is my business and I don’t want it revealed to my co-workers.
The union will not reveal how much individuals make. A study would provide only a range in compensation for each position. Salary transparency is key to ensuring fair pay. Talking about compensation with your co-workers isn’t about competing with each other, but rather a way to stop the company from relying on secrecy to maintain low and inequitable salaries.
What seniority means in a union
Unions make decisions based on seniority. How could that affect my compensation and benefits?
First of all, unions don’t make these decisions — we do. We are the union, and we would negotiate a seniority clause in our contract that would best meet our needs.
A seniority clause could allow for higher pay minimums the longer you’re employed at The Times. It could also allow for more vacation, other perks, and incremental increases to some benefits. These are common features in union contracts at other news organizations.
So are contract clauses that both provide seniority protections to employees in the event of a layoff, and are flexible enough to take into account the performance and needed skills of less-senior workers.
Any seniority clause must be approved by a vote of newsroom employees. We’d negotiate a clause that would be fair to everyone, including in the case of any layoffs or buyouts. Under our current conditions, Tronc can make unilateral decisions about layoffs and buyouts – we’re guaranteed nothing. One protection we’d pursue is “recall rights” that give laid-off employees first crack at new job openings.
How this affects supervisors
I like my supervisor and don’t want this to negatively affect them. Will it look bad for them if we unionize?
This effort is in no way about causing divisions in the newsroom. Just the opposite: We intend to foster healthy, collaborative relationships with our managers. As it stands now, a good supervisor may be replaced with no notice or discussion, and there is no guarantee what the next person will bring to that position. With a union contract, we will be able to use our collective voice to maintain a collegial workplace for employees and managers.
How union dues work
How much are union dues, and what do they go to?
Dues would be 1.38% of your salary. No dues are paid until after we win our union election, negotiate a contract that both we and management agree to, and a majority of employees vote to accept that contract. In general, these dues go back into supporting the NewsGuild and our own local union, paying for contract negotiations, arbitration and organizing. Dues are a tradeoff for what we gain in pay, benefits and bargaining power.
The union organizing process
Can I be punished for supporting an organizing effort?
Federal law ensures your right to organize and improve your working conditions. It is illegal for the company to fire, punish or harass you for activities such as attending union meetings, signing a union card, encouraging others to sign cards or talking to others about the union as long as it doesn’t interfere with your work. It is also illegal for the company to interfere with organizing efforts, threaten workers involved in union activity or question them about their involvement. If that happens, contact an organizer immediately. (See NLRB Section 7 Rights for more details.)
You are more protected from retaliation if there is proof you were part of an organizing effort. If you try to be an invisible supporter and you face retaliation anyway, it will be harder to prove management was aware of your views and punished you because of them.
Regardless of what the company’s anti-union campaign looks like, we’ll fight back with you. The NewsGuild will aggressively represent those targeted for involvement in the organizing efforts.
What are the steps to unionizing? When would a union go into effect?
A majority of the newsroom has already signed confidential authorization cards declaring our wish to be represented by a union. But we are continuing to build support. These cards are not about signing your life away to the union, or having to answer to “union bosses,” as the company might try to tell you. Signing a card simply means that you want a union, democratically run by us, the employees of the Los Angeles Times. These cards will be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board to trigger an election. While most union elections are held about a month after filing, we expect the company to resist, so the timeline may be extended. But we will push for the quickest timeline possible. After we win an election, we’ll be officially recognized by the NLRB and can negotiate a contract.
Does signing a union authorization card mean I’ve signed up for the union? Is this the end of the process?
No, this is not a membership card and does not mean you’ve joined the Guild. The cards simply prove our union has overwhelming support in the newsroom. The language on the card is legally required, and says the following:
I support having union representation at the Los Angeles Times and designate The NewsGuild-CWA as my collective bargaining representative.
With an overwhelming majority of cards, negotiations with Tronc could begin immediately. We’ll ask Tronc to accept the Los Angeles Times Guild voluntarily and start working with the newsroom to improve conditions as soon as possible. If Tronc refuses to work with us, we’ll file for an election with the NLRB.
The election would be administered independently by the NLRB, and the ballots are secret. The NewsGuild will be officially recognized as our collective bargaining agent with a simple majority vote.
After the vote passes, Tronc is legally required to negotiate with us in good faith over our pay, benefits, and working conditions. During this time Tronc cannot change our wages, benefits or working conditions without first giving notice and an opportunity to bargain, and negotiating with us in good faith.
A bargaining committee – comprised of negotiators from the NewsGuild and elected representatives from the newsroom – will be responsible for negotiating our contract. The committee will survey the whole newsroom on our priorities and ideas for the contract. They will be responsible for communicating with us throughout the negotiation process.
Once our bargaining committee and Tronc have agreed to a contract, we all vote to ratify it. If the vote doesn’t pass, we go back to table. We wouldn’t pay any union dues until a contract is ratified.
The contract negotiating process
What happens in between filing for a union election and a contract agreement? Could the company change my working conditions during contract negotiations?
After we are recognized by the NLRB, and before and during negotiations, the company must maintain the status quo when it comes to our working conditions and wages. Without a bargaining agreement, management has to give notice and negotiate changes that affect the terms and conditions of our work. The company is likely to hire outside consultants and anti-union lawyers, and we will probably have to sit through more anti-union meetings. But we will continue to support each other and stand up for our rights throughout the process.
Will the union make me go on strike?
Major actions like a strike are subject to a democratic vote of the employees. There can only be a strike if we decide as a group to conduct one. Strikes have become quite rare in our industry.
What leverage will we have to negotiate with the company?
Federal law requires the company to bargain with us in good faith, and we intend to hold management to that. However, our strongest asset is each other — we are the Los Angeles Times. We work with management every day and we make this place run. Support for this effort is already widespread in the newsroom. Furthermore, we’re an indispensable institution in a union-friendly town where people rely on our journalism. We’ll be able to draw on public support to remind management of our value.