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Oct. 17, 2019, 10:32 a.m.
Reporting & Production

The Los Angeles Times and its union now have a contract and (maybe) everyone is happy

“With this agreement, I am convinced we have assured the revival of The Times under local ownership.”

The Los Angeles Times Guild was created out of burner phones and data journalism two years ago. (See the how-to lightning talk from NICAR 2018.) After the establishment of the union drove former Tronc bossman Michael Ferro to offload the paper to local ownership — and then 15 months of negotiations — the guild and the leadership have agreed to a contract that includes an immediate pay raise of at least five percent for newsroom employees, parental leave, book deal rights for journalists, diversity commitments, and more.

From the Los Angeles Times’ reporting:

After weeks of bargaining, with several marathon sessions that stretched well into the night, the two sides convened Wednesday evening in a conference room at The Times’ El Segundo headquarters to sign the tentative agreement. Nearly 40 people — guild members, top editors, executives and lawyers who advised the bargaining teams — gathered for the celebration.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege for us to help hammer out this deal, and we are looking forward to a great future,” Managing Editor Scott Kraft told the group.

When the final documents were signed, Miranda and L.A. Times Guild Co-Chair Anthony Pesce gave each other a high-five. The room burst into applause, cameras clicked and champagne soon flowed.

The guild represents 475 employees and many newsroom staffers, from columnists to librarians to photojournalists to copy editors, are covered by the agreement. And yes, management applauded the agreement too.

The Los Angeles Times’ unionization was a major milestone in the union movement that has now swept across digital and legacy media (and podcasts!). The late Gawker Media started the wave in 2015, but the Times effort was important because of its context: a historically anti-union paper being troncked around by bizarre management that threatened to gut local news even more than it has been. “There was just an overwhelming sense that management was bad, that there wasn’t anything we could do about it,” reporter and L.A. Times Guild co-chair Anthony Pesce told Nieman Reports earlier this year. “We didn’t have a seat at the table. That was when people really realized that if they stand up and say something about this, we can actually effect some change.”

Cut to two years later, add new owners, and a lot of patience and negotiations, and you have a deal. The L.A. Business Journal tracked some more of the recent headaches on the bargaining table, but the accomplished agreement is impressive. There are still lots of fights to go elsewhere, though: Two-thirds of Arizona Republic journalists voted to unionize last week despite an aggressive Gannett anti-union campaign, and journalists at Vox Media and BuzzFeed have been walking out and striking during their contract negotiations. Tribune Publishing (the former Tronc), after voluntarily recognizing the unions of its remaining newsrooms, is still in negotiations with them. The first contract between a union and management is typically the hardest, our Ken Doctor told the L.A. Business Journal, “given that almost everything is on the table.”

“My thanks to the union leadership and its members, as well as my colleagues in management, and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong for their dedication and professionalism through months of negotiations,” said Times executive editor Norman Pearlstine in the outlet’s article. “Initial contracts are inherently difficult to negotiate, with every article and clause having profound implications for both sides — now and in the future. With this agreement, I am convinced we have assured the revival of The Times under local ownership.”

Having a union doesn’t solve the underlying problem of finding a sustainable business model, especially as the Times is trying to grow (and hold onto) its digital subscribers — see deputy managing editor Sewell Chan’s humble subscription request under his tweet of Wednesday’s announcement — but many employees feel that it at least gives them more protection in the quest.

POSTED     Oct. 17, 2019, 10:32 a.m.
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