UPDATED, 1:07 PM: Los Angeles Times journalists today conducted the first newsroom union work stoppage in the 142-year history of the newspaper, one day after management disclosed that substantial layoffs could be coming amid a widening budget deficit.
“The changes to our contract that management is trying to pressure us into accepting are obscene and unsustainable,” Brian Contreras, chair of Los Angeles Times Guild’s Unit Council, said in a statement. “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.”
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Management has not publicly disclosed the number of newsroom positions that could be eliminated, but reports said the plan is to lay off at least 100 journalists, or about 20% of the newsroom, the largest staff cut since the paper was owned by Tribune Company. The paper laid off 13% of its newsroom staff in June.
SAG-AFTRA issued a statement in support of the walkout today. “SAG-AFTRA proudly supports the L.A. Times staff who walked off the job in protest of proposed job cuts,” said the union, which reps media pros including news writers and news editors along with actors and others. “Those who work for the storied newspaper should be able to enjoy sustainable livelihoods. Historically, collective action has been the only way to achieve a change in working conditions and L.A. Times staff’s action today is part of an important legacy of worker empowerment.
PREVIOUS UPDATE, January 18: The Los Angeles Times Guild is calling for a one-day walkout Friday as a protest against planned layoffs.
Newsroom leadership confirmed earlier Thursday that layoffs are anticipated.
The Los Angeles Times‘ Meg James, citing unnamed sources, wrote that the plan is to lay off at least 100 journalists, which represents about 20% of the newsroom. That would leave a newsroom staff of about 400. The newsroom was about 1,200 staffers in the 1990s.
“The changes to our contract that management is trying to pressure us into accepting are obscene and unsustainable,” Brian Contreras, chair of the guild’s Unit Council, said in a statement. “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 walkout, the first union work stoppage since the Times began in 1881, will also include bureaus in Sacramento, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. A rally is planned at noon PT at Gloria Molina Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles near City Hall.
The union said that Times management has asked them to make an “impossible decision” — essentially to agree to waive seniority protections in exchange for fewer layoffs.
“If we agree to their request, they could lay off almost any of our members,” the guild said. “It is union-busting at its core and presents a false choice for preserving diversity within our ranks.” The guild wants an enhanced buyouts packages offered to all guild members over a seven-day period, with no cap on the number of people who can be given one. They also are calling for a town hall where leadership can “articulate a clear road map for revenue growth and not just cost reductions.” They also want guild input on the search for the next executive editor.
Staffers of The Washington Post walked out for one day last month. The union and management announced a framework agreement on a new contract two weeks later.
PREVIOUSLY, noon PT: The Los Angeles Times confirmed Thursday that it is anticipating a round of layoffs and that it is in discussions with the publication’s guild on how to proceed.
“We need to reduce our operating budget going into this year and anticipate layoffs,” a Times spokesperson said. “The hardest decisions to make are those that impact our employees, and we do not come to any such decisions lightly. We are continuing to review the revenue projections for this year and taking a very careful look at expenses and what our organization can support.”
The guild sent a memo out to members on Wednesday evening warning that there would be “another round of layoffs.” The guild said that the Times has asked the union “to gut seniority protections in our contract so they have vastly more freedom to pick who to lay off.”
In a memo to employees, the Times‘ editorial leadership wrote that “the Guild is asking for buyouts prior to any layoffs, and management is asking for more flexibility in how layoffs would be conducted. Management also shared with the Guild that more flexibility in how layoffs are conducted would allow the company to save 50 Guild positions.
“We believe our shared goals are to preserve as many jobs as possible and maintain areas of coverage that better represent the communities we serve and that our readers have shown us are vital to the business,” the leadership team wrote.
“We recognize how tough this news is. We will share updates from bargaining as soon as we learn more.”
The layoffs follow the departure last week of Kevin Merida as executive editor, who had been in the job less than three years.
PREVIOUSLY: The Los Angeles Times is planning “another round of major layoffs,” the publication’s guild warned its members in a memo, after executive editor Kevin Merida announced his surprise departure last week.
The Los Angeles Times Guild called a meeting for noon PT today after the company informed them of the plans, according to the memo. The guild said that the Times has “asked the Guild to gut seniority protections in our contract so they have vastly more freedom to pick who to lay off.”
“If we agreed to their request, they could choose almost any member they want; in exchange, management would add a layer of buyouts and told us they would lay off 50 fewer Guild members from an unspecified total (though those buyouts would not be credited against the layoff total.)”
Last June, the Times went through a round of layoffs that cut 13% of the newsroom, or 74 positions. They were the first undertaken by billionaire owner Patrick Soon-Shiong. That left the publication with about 500 newsroom employees, according to the Times.
Merida’s exit last week quickly generated concerns among staffers that another round of layoffs could be coming. In a memo to employees, Soon-Shiong wrote that “given the persistent challenges we face, it is now imperative that we all work together to build a sustainable business that allows for growth and innovation of the L.A. Times and L.A. Times Studios in order to achieve our vision.”
The guild said that they could not share how many members the company wanted to lay off, but added, “This is the Big One.”
A spokesperson for the Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Times is one of many publications that has grappled with an advertising downturn and lower-then-expected digital subscriptions. The Washington Post went through a round of buyouts late last year that eliminated 240 positions.
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