Heath Freeman, chairman of hedge fund Alden Global Capital, owner of the New York Daily News, may soon have a nickname he will likely hate: the country’s biggest labor organizer.
On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board revealed that the Orange County Register, the LA Daily News and nine other Southern California dailies belonging to the Southern California News Group, a unit of Media News Group controlled by Alden, have voted to form a union that will be affiliated with the NewsGuild.
The effort marks one of the biggest organizing drives in a newspaper chain in years.
“This is a day to remember for the workers of the Southern California News Group,” said Josh Cain, a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News and a member of the Guild’s organizing committee.
“Some of these newspapers are unionizing for the first time. This means that their staff, who endured years of low wages as their newsrooms shrunk around them, will now have a seat at the bargaining table, ”Cain said.
Alden, which just increased its stake in newspapers by buying Tribune Publishing, had refused to grant voluntary recognition to the union after a majority of its Southern California News Group employees applied for NewsGuild representation in February.
MNG had argued before the NLRB that the 11 newspapers – which also include the Press-Enterprise (Riverside), Press-Telegram (Long Beach), Daily Breeze (Torrance), Sun (San Bernardino), Pasadena Star- News, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News, and Redlands Daily Facts – are expected to be represented by separate locals.
But the National Labor Relations Board rejected that argument in May, organizing the vote that peaked on Friday. NLRB election results on Friday revealed the union won by 69-19, a margin of more than 3 to 1.
The union will represent around 140 non-executive editors, including journalists, photographers, editors and designers.
In a statement, the Southern California Newspaper Group only said, “Our goal is to continue to produce strong local journalism and develop a sustainable model for local news,” the company said.
Alden has a reputation for making drastic cuts to the newspapers of his MNG, which operates as Digital First Media and manages the Denver Post, Boston Herald, and Trentonian, among others.
While California newspapers are still a long way from reaching a collective agreement, their unionization will complicate any plans Alden may have to make drastic downsizing.
“The victory could at the very least complicate what Alden can do,” noted William Gould, former president of the NLRB who intervened in the 1995 baseball strike and ordered owners to rescind free agency rules and arbitration they had imposed on Major League players. Association.
“Once a vote is certified, an owner is limited in what he can do in business decisions, especially those that negatively impact workers,” said Gould, author of the memoir “Labored Relations: Law, Politics and the NLRB “.
Unilateral pay cuts or involuntary layoffs are becoming almost impossible to enforce without union approval, even though the company and the union have yet to reach a collective agreement, he said.
“Having a union, an owner is obligated to negotiate,” Gould said. “This complicates Alden’s ability to reduce costs. “
Alden, which last month bought out Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News and seven other major subway dailies, began making voluntary buyout offers to editors days after its takeover on May 24.
The deadline for Daily News employees to accept buybacks has been extended to June 16. But so far there appear to be few takers as buyouts have been deemed too meager for long-term employees who are typically incentivized to leave with two weeks pay for each year of service.
The package offers eight weeks ‘pay for workers with three years or less of work, and 12 weeks’ pay for workers with four years of service. But after four years, he’s only offering one week’s pay for each additional year of service.
An insider called the package, which strangely seems to favor less senior employees, “lame.”
Among the known buyers of the News is Metro editor-in-chief Ginger Otis, who was promoted after previous owners in 2018 laid off so many people that they cut the newsroom in half in a single day. She reportedly said during a Zoom call that she didn’t want to experience this again.
Metro deputy editor-in-chief Rob Dominguez also called for a buyout, as did Jared McCallister, a veteran with some 40 years of work who once edited a long-folded glossy insert aimed at West Indians, CaribBeat.
They should be gone by Friday. Insiders said they were the only known candidates among the more than 70 people left in the newsroom.
Daily News editor-in-chief Robert York, who previously ran Tribune’s Allentown Morning Call, told staff members that he intends to stay under the new regime.
In a Zoom call to staff on Tuesday, York said Dominguez, who previously told staff he was taking a buyout, was apparently convinced to stay. Sources speculate he might be in line to be the editor.
Eddie Glazarex, who was in charge of the front page layout in the press, and editor-in-chief Isaac Lopez will come out with a package with Laura Nahmias, who is a member of the editorial board.