Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Bad Pressmen's Union Letter to LAT Advertisers

The Los Angeles Times has enough problems under the Tribune Co. ownership without the use of improperly threatening tactics by organized labor against the newspaper.

Yet, sadly, that is what we see this week in the disclosure of a letter from the Bargaining Committee for the Pressmen's union which threatens Times advertisers as a means of putting pressure on Times managers.

The letter, which says the union may ask customers to boycott the advertisers unless it fares better in negotiations with the Times over a contract for its pressmen members, is, I think, contrary to the long range interests not only of the newspaper and its pressmen, but all Times employees.

It is why, despite many differences with Times management over the 39 years I was a reporter at the Times, I never supported the unionization of the paper. I always feared that fanatic union members would, in effect, throw out the baby with the bathwater -- that in pursuing one more contract advantage, they would threaten the newspaper's wellbeing.

In the interest of disclosure, I must freely acknowledge here that in the fight over front page advertising sales ordered by the Tribune toady publisher, David Hiller, last year I urged a boycott of the Macy's Co. if it continued to advertise on the front page of the Times. That seems now to me to have been a mistake, although the issue was somewhat different. I was advocating action against an advertiser which I felt was jeopardizing the quality of the paper.

A general boycott of advertisers to secure a union contract would jeopardize the very existence of the paper.

No wonder a pressman who is a friend of mine e-mails me that "many of us (are) saddened and upset over this tactic."

If I were still an employee, pressman, reporter, editor or anything else, I would be upset too, because it seems to me it can only raise the possibility of deeper immediate layoffs at the Times, and we have seen enough of those already.

We cannot, and must not, forget that a strike of New York newspaper unions against that city's newspapers years ago resulted in the eventual permanent shutdown of several of the New York papers, which was a tragedy.

I certainly feel the Pressmen's union, which is part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, is entitled to a fair contract, and I would hope that, if the talks are at an impasse, the two sides could reconsider their interests and come to a settlement.

But I would not favor a strike against the paper at this time. and I certainly do not favor a boycott of advertisers.

The union letter, after some mealy mouthed talk about realizing that the newspaper industry is in financial trouble these days, goes on to say to the advertisers:

"This letter is to advise you, our advertiser, that the (union) and its members may exercise their right under the National Labor Relations Act which includes the right to handbill in front of your establishment and ask your customers not to buy your product because you advertise in the L.A. Times.

"This is certainly not what we would prefer to do, but this is a decision that the company is forcing us employees to consider making..."

I feel this is tantamount to a mobster saying: "I don't want to commit murder, but I may be forced to."

This is truly Jimmy Hoffa's Teamsters union. It is contrary to decent conduct, and a direct threat not only to the fortunes of the L.A. Times, but, as I say, the fortunes of all its employees, not to mention the interests of Los Angelenos and all Californians to have a strong, vibrant Los Angeles Times.

--

This morning comes the shocking and depressing news that Jim Newton, the L.A. Times' outstanding editorial pages editor, has decided to leave the newspaper to write a book about Dwight D. Eisenhower.

This is the latest of a series of tragic losses of talented personnel. I will have more to say about it tomorrow. I think, from what I understand, that Newton was fed up with Tribune policies. But it is true also he enjoys book writing, after his biography of Earl Warren, and had been looking forward to getting back to it.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unions have outlived their usefulness. Once upon a time when sweatshops took horrible advantage of workers, unions were a godsend. Now, it seems, they've become extortionists operating under the guise of representing the majority of workers' views. In reality, they are just legalized bullies.

This is America. We are a capitalist nation, where free enterprise reigns supreme. The LA Times is in business to make money. Employees are well-compensated because the LA Times turns a profit. If the profit is gone, the LA Times won't be operating as a non-profit--it will fold.

The union is playing a dangerous game, and it seems as though the tactics it's using do not represent the voice of the pressmen or be in their best interest. Maybe it's time the union asked the pressmen for some input. With economic times so difficult and well-paying jobs becoming scarce, the union is playing with a very precious commodity--the security of the people they profess to be representing.

6/03/2008 6:12 PM  
Anonymous TeamsterPower said...

Anonymous,

Your comments are those of a spineless coward, unwilling to put your name to your comments.

Unions are needed today more than ever. With more jobs being shipped overseas, benefits shrinking, more employers misclassifying workers as independent contractors, extorting foreign workers to work below scale to keep their visas, or exploiting their undocumented status.

Recent history has proven that if workers do not stand together the middle class falls apart.

Real wages have declined over the past ten years while prices have skyrocketed.

CEOs run companies into the ground, outsource and offshore jobs and then jump off with their golden parachutes.

Meanwhile retirees get their pensions slashed and health benefits eliminated.

The average CEO in the US earns $9 million or 240 times more than their average employee while CEOs in other industrialized nations earn less than a third of that.

This is why we need unions. And this is why unions like the Teamsters are growing. Workers across this country know the middle class is being strangled at the hands of the richest 1%. They realize they must stand together to get management's attention.

Yes, it is an old struggle and like a pendulum, it is swinging back.

The union does represent the will of the workers because the union is the workers. Unions are democracies, and as the race for presient shows us, not everyone may support a particular decision. Still, it is the majority that decides. The same is true here. Although some pressmen may not like this tactic, many more approve of it.

Although I wouldn't expect someone on the outside looking in to realize that. You are too consumed with the the rightwing media agenda that displays union members as lazy, corrupt, "bullies" rather than what they really are: your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, police officers, nurses, EMTs, food handlers, farm workers, they stock your shelves, deliver your goods and remove your trash. Mickey Mouse is even a Teamster for God's sake.

But you never hear the good unions do because it is not in the publishers' best interests to spotlight that. Many advertisers may be anti-union as well and wouldn't support a pro-union editorial stance.

Where are the stories on the money raised for local charities? Where are the features on job placement efforts for veterans who served our country? Where are the stories of workers struggling against discrimination, intimidation, bosses who violate federal law to deny workers their rights to organize?

Where in the LA Times can I find these stories?

Now I ask you, who is the LA Times management looking out for? How much does its Publisher and corporate management earn?

Who caused those losses? Was it high salaries or was it poor decision making? Perhaps it was slash-and-burn editorial cuts for the sake of shortlived shareholder returns? Who's to blame?

And where, in your opinion, should the paper turn first to recover those losses? To those who can afford it most, or those who can afford it least?

Maybe, instead of attcking the union, editorial and other staff members at the LA Times should stand with the pressmen to help resolve this issue before a boycott cuts too deep.

Those who earn a paycheck have much more in common with each other than they do with the guy signing it.

Dan Rutherford
Teamster member

6/04/2008 7:42 AM  
Blogger C.RENEY said...

It sure is easy to sit on the sidelines and judge those on the battle field .I think it’s rather odd that so many have so much to say for somebody else. If the news paper would actually print stinging commentary ‘s .We still might have a worthy product .I know some employee’s are afraid of what they don’t really understand .I sit at the table, talking to people that represent the company and it scares the hell out of me .We the negotiation committee are talked down to like we are less than .We are told what we have seen isn’t true and most of all lied to when we know the truth .Now apparently we make too much with too many .To listen to the companies team we would resort back to a (sweat shop).It is time to hear from the majority .Brothers and Sisters speak up now or forever hold your peace .This country was not form on those who watch and comment from the sidelines but from those who actively get involved in their lives.

6/04/2008 4:48 PM  

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