Media

Read the memo: LA Times top editor warns staff about union

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Jim Kirk, the interim executive editor of the Los Angeles Times — the guy who was sent out from Chicago after Tronc fired Davan Maharaj and before they hired Lewis D'Vorkin — sent an email around the newsroom yesterday that opened as a pat on the back for the good work done on the Northern California fires, Las Vegas massacre, hurricanes et al. "Over the past six weeks, this newsroom has shown why it is among the best in the world," Kirk writes.

Then came the hint that this was really about something else.

"It takes a team of incredible journalists to do the work we are doing daily," Kirk went on. "Constantly. And it takes a workplace that embraces this work and spotlights it and encourages it to do the best it can.

"Organizations do well when they talk and work together and embrace the change needed to be successful now and long into the future. We are striving to be that workplace."

Then, in the sixth paragraph, the actual nub.

"We understand over the past several months, there has been a campaign by the News Guild to encourage employees here to unionize..." He goes on to throw shade at the union effort and try to sow doubts. Read the whole thing below. Here's also the Los Angeles Times Guild website and a recent column here by Bill Boyarsky, the former city editor and columnist at the Times. He argues that a newsroom union at the Times is a good thing.



From: "Kirk, Jim"

Date: October 18, 2017 at 10:00:28 AM PDT
To: yyeditall
Subject: Update


Dear Colleagues,

Over the past six weeks, this newsroom has shown why it is among the best in the world. The breaking news of the Las Vegas shooting and the subsequent heart-breaking tales of loss and uplifting stories of heroism; the catastrophes of hurricanes and an earthquake here and abroad; and the incredible fire story happening in this state which we’ve covered so thoroughly and authoritatively. The investigative work and storytelling from every desk here has been nothing short of amazing. And now this (hopefully) magical story of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ run for that elusive pennant and, just maybe this time, that World Series title.

Add to that the breathtaking photography and videography, powerful digital storytelling from our graphics, data and audience engagement teams, a highly skilled copy desk and team of designers, and a hard-charging Hub that works with all our news desks to keep us first and best on the stories that matter most to our readers.

It takes a team of incredible journalists to do the work we are doing daily. Constantly. And it takes a workplace that embraces this work and spotlights it and encourages it to do the best it can.

Organizations do well when they talk and work together and embrace the change needed to be successful now and long into the future. We are striving to be that workplace.

When Ross talks about transparency, it isn’t lip-service. He means it. It is why he feels communication is important in this and every workplace.

We understand over the past several months, there has been a campaign by the News Guild to encourage employees here to unionize. In recent weeks, you’ve seen literature from the union using selective statements designed to convince you to join. All of us as journalists know that we need to look at all the facts before completing a story. So, we wanted to provide the full picture so that you can make your own assessment.

We can say with certainty that if the union is voted in, the company will bargain in good faith and will attempt to reach mutual agreement. However, it is important to remember that the union cannot provide any wages, benefits or working conditions to you without the company’s agreement. The current terms and conditions of employment at the Los Angeles Times will remain in place while a contract is negotiated. But once the union opens up negotiations, it opens up all terms and conditions and, if history is a guide, the results are often mixed.

Some of you have faced the choice of whether or not to unionize this newsroom in the past. Much has changed recently and we continue to make strong progress on a number of fronts. We are investing heavily in reshaping our technology to extend our journalism across multiple platforms. The Los Angeles Times is the first tronc company to have access to the Arc Publishing technology developed by The Washington Post and used by The Post and dozens of other news organizations across the world.

Also importantly: Since Ross’ arrival we have increased our communication through emails from senior management, town halls and lunchtime feedback sessions. We will continue to encourage ongoing, two-way and collaborative communication.

I truly believe it is an exciting time to be part of the Los Angeles Times.

Here are some other facts you may want to consider as you decide whether or not to unionize.

COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS

Unionization has had mixed results in obtaining better salaries and benefits. If a union is voted in, a contract has to be negotiated and everything that is related to “wages, hours and working conditions (including benefits such as 401k, time-off, Short-Term Disability, etc.)” is up for negotiation. Please remember that nothing that exists now is guaranteed and we have seen both positive and negative outcomes within tronc and across the industry.

Most contracts have a dues deduction provision. Of those that do not, most collect dues by another method. As an example, for the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, their dues are based on their weekly salary compensation. The higher the weekly pay, the higher the dues. It is also a fact that all four tronc Guild-represented newsrooms receive a level of benefits that is different, and not always better, than our non-union employees. As an example, Guild-represented employees at the Pioneer Press and the Lake County News-Sun are not eligible for the company 401k contribution match, something we currently have here at the Los Angeles Times.

FLEXIBILITY

Unionization could also change the way the newsroom works, including the flexibility supervisors now have to allow some people to work at home or take paid time off, and to grant certain types of leave. With a union, you will have an outside third party representing you. Also, those benefits will be up for negotiation in a contract, and the company has the right to seek concessions from the union in exchange for benefits given.

SECURITY

Unionization may not protect anyone from economic-related layoffs. It also may not protect jobs based on seniority. These are issues that will be up for negotiation between the company and the union.

TRONC AND UNIONS

When deciding if the union is right for you, please assess the Guild’s track record. It is especially relevant to look at tronc’s negotiations with its 13 bargaining units.

One example: reporters at The Baltimore Sun were not eligible for the last 2.5% salary increase given to all non-Guild tronc newsroom employees, including at the Los Angeles Times. Due to the three contracts the union negotiated in 2011, 2014 and 2016, the team at The Baltimore Sun has not received a general increase since June 2013 and is not eligible for such an increase through at least June 2019 when their current contract expires – which will mean they have gone without a general increase for five years.

CONTRACT

History has shown that there is no guarantee that a union will be able to successfully negotiate a contract. While a union can make lots of promises, it can only provide its members with what tronc is willing to give.

We value all of our employees. We understand that these issues are incredibly important to you, and they are equally important to us. Every employee is part of the lifeblood of this organization. For that reason, please ask the important questions about the News Guild, look at all of the facts and assess what it all means for this newsroom, and for you.

Most importantly, we ask that if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to talk to me or any manager, some of whom have experience working in a union shop. As I said at the outset, a team is only successful when it is able and willing to communicate. The door is open.

Thanks for taking the time to read and consider.

And thank you for your extraordinary work.

Sincerely,

Jim


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