Unionization and Sexual Harassment Accusations Rattle LA Times

The Los Angeles Times has recently gone from reporting the news to making it.

On Friday, Jan. 19, the National Labor Relations Board announced that Times’ employee union drive, which would provide Times journalists with the opportunity to unionize, succeeded by a 248-44 vote.

For the first time since the Los Angeles Times printed its inaugural edition in 1881, our journalists have voted to form a union… Anyone familiar with the history of The Times — and of Los Angeles itself — knows the significance of what we’ve just accomplished,” organizers said in a statement.

The LA Times has a long history of being an anti-union instrument. In 1910, the LA Times headquarters was famously bombed by union advocates in response to then-owner Harrison Gray Otis’ anti-union stance.

Since 2000, the LA Times, which is the largest paper on the West Coast, has been owned by Tronc, formerly known as Tribune Publishing. Tronc is currently the nation’s third-largest newspaper publisher.

“We respect the outcome of the election and look forward to productive conversations with union leadership as we move forward,” the publisher said in a statement following the vote.

Harassment Scandal Hits

The day before the successful unionization, NPR published extensive reporting detailing sexual harassment allegations against current LA Times Publisher Ross Levinsohn.

The report concludes that “The portrait that repeatedly emerges is one of a frat-boy executive, catapulting ever higher, even as he creates corporate climates that alienated some of the people who worked for and with him.”

Considering the paper’s authority in covering Hollywood and the #MeToo movement, Levinsohn’s leadership is understandably being called into question.

Ross Levinsohn should resign or be fired immediately,” union organizers said in a statement. “A man who sexually harasses women, engages in “slut-shaming” and refers to gay men as “fags” is not fit to lead our newspaper.”

According to Deadline, Levinsohn has been placed on unpaid leave pending an investigation by tronc.  

On January 26, the negative news about the LA Times kept coming. A Huffington Post story detailed how Tronc is “creating a national newsroom outside of the union, to service all of Tronc’s markets.” In the story, anonymous LA Times staffers worried about their job security.

Employees described to the reporters “an atmosphere of intense secrecy, distrust and anxiety as they try to get to the bottom of a story they’re living instead of reporting.”

Nieman Lab also reported on Jan. 26 that, in March of 2015, Tronc registered the “Los Angeles Times Network LLC” as a separate entity from the newspaper to act as a mechanism for “national expansion in selected verticals.”

While employees had long been suspicious about Tronc’s silence, an employee recently overheard new manager Bruce Upbin discussing plans to create a national newsroom. According to the employee, Upbin also hired five new employees.

Employees have been kept in the dark about the hiring of new mid-level managers and editors. Nieman Lab’s report details that current employees only found out through the company’s internal HR software.

Employees fear that Tronc will simply outsource their jobs to a national reporting network and therefore make union employees expendable.

Union organizers, in response to the Huffington Post’s reporting, said the following in a statement:

We have grave concerns about this matter and have requested information from Tronc’s management team — which they have declined to provide. Why a communications company built on the idea of publishing the truth wouldn’t be truthful with its employees is beyond comprehension. But rest assured that our newsroom remains mobilized and powerful and we are covered by legal protections.

While Tronc’s intentions are unclear and the investigation into Levinsohn’s behavior is still ongoing, the Los Angeles Times is seemingly in turmoil, with the new union coming at a time when employees are anxious about the future of the paper.  

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