From NPR | In Historic Move At Labor-Skeptic 'Chicago Tribune', Newsroom Pushes To Form Union


The following story originally appeared on NPR

One of the nation's oldest and most prestigious regional newspapers, The Chicago Tribune, could soon have a unionized staff. Wednesday morning, journalists from its newsroom informed management they are preparing to organize and they have collected signatures from dozens of colleagues.

This is a historic move at a paper that had for decades taken a hardline stance against unions.

The move will likely not go over well with its current corporate owner Tronc. Two months ago, the newspaper publishing company struck a deal to sell another venerable daily the Los Angeles Times, weeks after the paper's journalists succeeded in unionizing its newsroom.

Journalists at the Tribune say the move will help them secure better pay and ensure they can fulfill the paper's mission.

"For a long time we didn't think we needed it," said Charlie J. Johnson, a Tribune homepage editor who has been helping to lead the union drive. "The pay and the prestige was more than people working in union shops. That's no longer the case. And it hasn't been in a while."

Tronc spokeswoman Marisa Kollias did not initially have a comment to NPR's query about the union drive in Chicago.

The effort flies in the face of the paper's anti-union traditions. In his definitive treatment of the Tribune's legendary publisher Robert McCormick, biographer Richard Norton Smith wrote of his distrust and aversion to unions. That antipathy has lived on, a century later, in the paper's typically labor-skeptic line on its editorial page, and in the clear wishes of the Tribune Company's successor, Tronc.

Journalists cited a basket of concerns: fears of job security after two rounds of layoffs in the past six months; irregular and scant raises; rising health care costs and a desire for more generous family leave conditions.

However they also cited concerns about Tronc's commitment to the newsroom's mission, including concerns over journalistic independence, resources to staff the paper adequately, and the executives' own practice of assigning generous compensation for themselves.

"They have looted the company and the Tronc executives have paid themselves outsized salaries," Johnson said. "The motivation [for unionizing] was the idea that the newsroom would finally have a voice and say in how things operated. We wanted a microphone to speak to management and the public about how this place should operate."

At the LA Times several months ago, when the union effort gained steam, Tronc announced it would give raises to many of its journalists. The company also circulated memos arguing against the adoption of the Newspaper Guild. The Los Angeles newsroom voted in early January and the tally took place on Jan. 19. The margin was overwhelming.

Tronc's controlling owner, Michael Ferro, receives $5 million a year as a consulting fee, a payment that created shock waves in his company's newsrooms when it surfaced in publicly available disclosure forms. That fee remains even though he stepped down as board chairman last month after two women with whom he came into contact professionally accused him of sexual harassment.

In another instance, CEO of Tronc's new digital division, Ross Levinsohn, was paid $6.9 million in compensation in 2017. He had worked for the company as publisher of the LA Times for just a bit more than four months last year (and was also paid $300,000 as a consultant earlier in the year).

Levinsohn stepped aside as publisher in January after NPR reported on past allegations of workplace misconduct. The Tronc board exonerated him, without releasing any basis, and named him the head of the digital division on the same day it announced it had reached a deal to sell the LA Times. Other top executives were also paid millions. Corporate officials warned investors they could not offer a financial forecast for the company because of its unclear future without the LA Times (and its sister paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune).

Please read the entire article at NPR. 

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