L.A. Times Staff Votes to Unionize

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Newsroom employees at the Los Angeles Times voted overwhelmingly to unionize for the first time in the paper's 136-year history, according to results tallied today.

The results of the newsroom vote -- tallied by the National Labor Relations Board -- showed 248 employees voting in favor of unionizing, with 44 opposed.

The L.A. Times Guild committee pushing for the union called the vote ``a landslide victory, and a historic day for the Los Angeles Times newsroom.''

A letter sent earlier this month to newsroom employees by the guild committee said reporters were generally treated fairly when the publication was controlled by the Chandler family.

``We all know what happened next,'' the letter said. ``The Chandlers left. They were replaced by a series of incompetent owners. Sam Zell drove us into bankruptcy. Management only knew how to do one thing: cut staff and benefits.

``... We know what we want. It's nothing extraordinary. Regular raises to keep up with the cost of inflation. Better parental leave policies. Equal pay and better treatment for women and journalists of color. Just-cause firing protections. Better severance packages. A voice to safeguard our ethical standards and the quality of our journalism. A fair shake from management.''

The successful vote means employees will join the Washington, D.C.- based NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America. According to The Times, the union represents 25,000 journalists, including reporters and editors at The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

In a statement provided to The Times, Marisa Kollias, spokeswoman for the paper's owner Tronc Inc., said, ``We respect the outcome of the election and look forward to productive conversations with union leadership as we move forward. We remain committed to ensuring that the Los Angeles Times is a leading source for news and information and to producing the award-winning journalism our readers rely on.''

The results of the union vote came one day after Tronc announced it was investigating allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate workplace conduct by The Times' publisher and chief executive, Ross Levinsohn, who joined the paper in August. The move came after allegations -- which all pre-date Levinsohn's employment at The Times -- were detailed by National Public Radio's media correspondent, who reported on two sexual harassment lawsuits filed against Levinsohn while he was an executive at other corporations.

Friday morning, more than 180 journalists at the newspaper signed a letter to Tronc's board of directors, demanding Levinsohn's removal.

The letter questioned how Levinsohn can ``lead a diverse newsroom that writes about sexual harassment, discrimination and corporate misconduct'' amid allegations that he has created a ``frat-house environment at his former companies and openly rated the `hotness' of female employees.''

It concludes: ``Levinsohn has lost credibility as the leader of one of the country's top newspapers. He has to go -- without a cent more of company money.''

Early Friday afternoon, Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn announced in a memo to Times employees that Levinsohn ``has voluntarily agreed to take an unpaid leave of absence, effective immediately,'' and that the company has hired Sidley Austin LLP to ``conduct a review of the allegations regarding his behavior.''

``I want to reemphasize to you all that the company takes any allegations of inappropriate behavior by its employees very seriously. It is critical that in any such circumstances we conduct a thorough review so that we have a full understanding of what happened,'' Dearborn wrote. ``We will not hesitate to take further action, if appropriate, once the review is complete.''

He said Times President Mickie Rosen will step into Levinsohn's role in Levinsohn's absence and Editor in Chief Lewis D'Vorkin will continue to lead the newsroom, reporting to Rosen.

Photo: Getty Images

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