Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rick Wartzman's American Prospect Article

Organizing the L.A. Times Pressrooms
Rick Wartzman July 11, 2007 web only

How the press workers at the Los Angeles Times bucked the paper's legacy and organized at the notoriously anti-union employer.

It's tough to imagine what Gen. Harrison Gray Otis -- the bellicose press baron with the steely gaze and a speaking voice once likened to "that of a game warden roaring at seal poachers" -- would make of his family's recent decision to sever the last of its ties with the Los Angeles Times.

The 19th-century publisher, were he looking down upon this vale, couldn't be too happy that his descendants have walked away from the paper he built. At the same time, Otis was a savvy enough businessman that he might at least take some pleasure from the terms of their exit: When all is said and done, his scions will have pocketed about $3.5 billion from their sale of parent Times Mirror Company to Tribune Company.
And yet there's another development at the Times that would undoubtedly elicit no such mixed emotions from the general.

On this, he'd be sour through and through: The National Labor Relations Board last month, in turning back an appeal from the company, certified the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as the bargaining agent for workers at the Times' two printing facilities, in Los Angeles and Orange County. Only a few hundred jobs are affected. But, in its own way, the Teamsters' triumph could portend a bigger comeback for the labor movement around the country.
One of the primary reasons that the union prevailed at the newspaper was a feeling among the employees that they've been asked to work a lot harder without getting much in return; pay increases in recent years have been paltry at best. In this era of stagnating wages and deteriorating benefits -- amid big gains in productivity -- that's a set of circumstances hardly unique to the Times.
It's no wonder that a new batch of research suggests workers across the United States are hungrier than ever for union representation, according to a recent Economic Policy Institute study.

Mostly, though, the Teamsters' success is remarkable historically and symbolically, capping L.A.'s decades-long transformation from a non-union city to one in which organized labor is an unusually potent force.
"This was a long time coming," says Jim Santangelo, a Teamsters' international vice president for the Western region. "That newspaper has always hated unions -- and I mean hate."
Rick Wartzman, director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University and an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is a former editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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