Sunday, January 08, 2006

Rumors The L.A. Times May Get A New Labor Writer

It was quite a magnificent memorial service in the Council Chambers at L.A. City Hall yesterday, Jan. 7, for labor leader Bill Robertson, and the L.A. Times gave it appropriately fine coverage this morning, by the old labor writer, Henry Weinstein.

But an important thing is that the Times name someone to replace Nancy Cleeland as the paper's beat correspondent on organized labor. Cleeland quit that post last year when she perceived no one in the new Business section really cared whether the Times covered labor or not. That was just months before the public employee unions turned back Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Special election proposition to gut their influence over state government.

Now, the report is that when Joe Mathews returns to the Times staff after completing a book on Schwarzenegger's politics, he may ask to take over the labor beat, and that would be excellent news, since Joe, the son of Linda and Jay Mathews, did a fine job covering Compton before taking a leave to write the book.

That there's a lot to write about in covering organized labor was evident at yesterday's overflow service yesterday.

The way the two and a half-hour program was organized, the speakers appeared mostly in alphabetical order. As it happened, that left the strongest speeches to the end, with the great liberal on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, Stephen Reinhardt, and the firebrand Congresswoman from the South Side, Maxine Waters, among the final speakers.

Both gave distinguished presentations pointing out the importance of the labor movement and of Robertson himself, who bridged the gap between organized labor and the establishment in Los Angeles long before he died last month at the age of 89.

Waters, among other things, paid tribute to the transit workers in New York City who struck for three days before the Christmas holiday in an effective and successful protest against plans to cut their pensions.

This was an important issue in national life, said Waters, and it certainly is. The Times ought to be covering it more than it is. It needs someone like Joe Mathews on that beat.

Reinhardt and his wife, Ramona Ripston, head of the Los Angeles office of the ACLU, credited Robertson with uniting labor with the civil rights movement in Los Angeles. Look around, the federal jurist said, and you will see a diverse staff at City Hall. Robertson, he said, and the mayor he supported, Tom Bradley, bear much of the credit for that.

Reinhardt also got off one of the best stories of the day when he told how he and Robertson, who together had negotiated the deal that brought the Oakland Raiders to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the 1980s, were once attending a Los Angeles Rams playoff game when Robertson suddenly received a telephone call in the fourth quarter. "Who the Hell can that be," asked an annoyed Robertson. "It has to be (Gov) Jerry Brown," Reinhardt said he had answered. "He's the only one in California who doesn't know there's a big football game today." And guess what, it was Brown.

Brown, now running as state attorney general, spoke at the memorial service as well. He told how, despite his lack of interest in sports, Robertson got him to come to Colorado to make a key presentation before the U.S. Olympic Committee in Los Angeles' successful bid for the 1984 Olympic Games.

Henry Weinstein, a reporter with a conscience, was at the service throughout, sitting near the front, taking it all in. For once again, even under the lackluster Tribune Co., the L.A. Times was covering something that really mattered.

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