With the Los Angeles Times management telling the union representing its newsroom that significant layoffs are coming, the L.A. Times Guild announced a one-day walkout from both its L.A. and Washington D.C. offices this Friday, with staff members also participating from Sacramento and elsewhere. They’re abstaining from work for the entire day while also staging a rally. It’s the first union work stoppage in the newsroom’s history, according to the union, dating back to when it started printing in 1881.
The walkout and accompanying rally come following an emergency union meeting Thursday. In an internal memo, it referred to these layoffs as “the Big One.”
“The management of the Los Angeles Times has announced that it intends to imminently lay off a significant number of journalists, and is asking the Guild to gut seniority protections in our union contract so they have vastly more freedom to pick whom to lay off,” a statement from the union reads. “This will greatly damage our ability to provide the accountability journalism so important to Southern California.”
In response, the union is asking that Times management provides three things: a head count or salary reduction that they’re aiming for, a town hall with management and the opportunity for the union to be part of selecting the next executive editor.
The union is staging a “Rally to Save Local Journalism” on Friday at noon, which it states is to “fight massive job cuts.” The paper’s executive editor chose to leave last week after being frustrated by interference from owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and ongoing financial uncertainty at the outlet, including looming editorial cuts.
“The changes to our contract that management is trying to pressure us into accepting are obscene and unsustainable,” the Guild’s Unit Council chair Brian Contreras said in the release. “If this newsroom will ever be a place where reporters can have a reliable, steady job and put down roots in Los Angeles, that will only happen through the preservation of our seniority protections. And if management thinks our financial situation is untenable, they need to come to the bargaining table in good faith and work out a buyout plan with us that would first articulate a clear headcount or cost saving they’re aiming for, and then seek to hit that number with as many buyouts — and as few layoffs — as possible.”
The Times Guild is asking for what it describes as “less destructive cost-cutting measures” and pointed to the Washington Post as an example of a newsroom that accomplished cuts through buyouts.
The negotiations between management and the union have been happening in off-the-record meetings, according to the union, which means that it can’t say how many guild members the company is seeking to lay off. However, it is “a substantial number,” it notes, which are coming “in a year in which journalism will play a critical role in the future of democracy.”
“Times management has asked the Guild to make an impossible decision,” the statement reads. “If we agree to their request, they could lay off almost any of our members. It is union-busting at its core and presents a false choice for preserving diversity within our ranks.”
“Management is trying to pit colleagues against colleagues to execute a plan that will be detrimental to the long term success of the L.A. Times and a blow to the free press in the second largest city in America,” the Guild’s Black Caucus cochairs Erin B. Logan and Erika D. Smith said in a statement.
The walkout rally will be held in L.A. near City Hall on the southwest side of Gloria Molina Grand Park, while the Washington D.C. portion of the event will be staged downtown at 1100 Vermont Ave. NW. The union is inviting other media and supporters to attend.
Read the Guild’s three demands it’s calling for from management below:
GIVE US A NUMBER: We want management to publicly articulate a clear head count or salary reduction they’re aiming for, then offer the enhanced buyouts package outlined in our contract — up to 52 weeks pay — to all Guild members over a seven-day period, with no cap on the number of people who can be given one. We then want all such buyouts to be credited against the layoff total. We reject all seniority carve outs.
TELL US WHO IS MAKING DECISIONS: We want our new interim executive editors (in place following the abrupt departure of executive editor Kevin Merida last week) as well as President and COO Chris Argentieri to hold an all-hands town hall and articulate a clear road map for revenue growth and not just cost reductions.
MORE GUILD INPUT: We want ownership to convene a search and selection committee for the next executive editor which includes multiple Guild representatives.
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