Journalists At Historically Anti-Union Newspaper Make Dramatic Shift To Join Union

The Chicago Tribune. Photo by Lisa Andres via Flickr

Founded in 1847, The Chicago Tribune is one of the country’s most respected regional newspapers. For much of the newspaper’s history, the publishers and editorial staff maintained a hardline anti-union stance.

But that may be about to change, NPR notes.

Spurred by worries over the lack of raises, the lack of diversity in the newsroom, inadequate health insurance premiums, and equally inadequate job security, 46 Tribune employees joined an organizing committee.

Announced in a statement under the banner of The Chicago Tribune Guild, reports The Chicago Sun-Times:

“Our primary goal in forming a union is to give us, the Tribune’s journalists, a voice in setting the course for the publications we hold dear. … This includes the Aurora-Beacon News, Daily Southtown, Naperville Sun, Elgin-Courier News, RedEye, and Hoy.”

But in the world of corporate oligarchy, it should come as no surprise that this move won’t likely sit well with Tronc, the company that now owns The Tribune. When journalists at another respected daily, The Los Angeles Times, successfully unionized the paper, the newspaper publishing company sold it.

Tribune journalists are questioning the company’s dedication to journalistic standards — will the company allow them to maintain a semblance of journalistic independence, for instance?

Will it provide the finances necessary to staff the newsroom adequately — especially since the company has the habit of gifting its own executives with enormous sums of money?

Michael Ferro, Tronc’s controlling owner, receives a $5 million consulting fee annually. That rather shocking bit of news was revealed in public disclosure forms, and it created quite a stir in his company’s newsrooms. And he is still going to receive this fee even though he stepped down as board chairman last month after two women accused him of sexual harassment.

Then there’s Ross Levinsohn, CEO of Tronc’s new digital division. He originally worked as the company’s publisher of The Los Angeles Times for just over four months, stepping aside in January amid allegations of workplace misconduct, NPR reported. Having already received $300,000 as a consultant earlier in the year, he was compensated to the tune of $6.9 million in 2017.

Levinsohn was subsequently exonerated by Tronc’s board, which never commented on its reasons for doing so. On the same day that the company reached a deal to sell The Los Angeles Times, Levinsohn was given the handy-dandy new job as head of the digital division.

Now isn’t that just convenient?

Other top executives also reaped the lucrative benefits from the sale, even though corporate bigwigs warned investors that there were at least some clouds over Tronc’s financial future, thanks to the sale of the LA Times and its sister newspaper, The San Diego Union.

Meanwhile, while CEOs and other executives are feeding at the table of corporate largesse, journalists are being fed nothing but scraps.

The median salary for journalists was $37,820 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. while their hourly wage was $18.18, as of May 2016.

At small newspapers, reporters earn $20,000-$30,000 per year. At medium-sized newspapers, their earnings range from $35,000 to $55,000, while at larger newspapers, earnings range to about $60,000 and up.

Editors are in roughly the same boat, earning a little bit more than reporters.

So it’s no wonder that so many Tribune reporters and editors are happy about the move to unionize. Unions provide a safety net in an industry that has become increasingly unstable over the last several decades. Some say the move will secure better pay and make it easier to fulfill the newspaper’s mission. This is a critical concern because there have been two rounds of layoffs in the past six months and raises have been rare, The Huffington Post reported.

Charlie J. Johnson, a Tribune Home Page Editor, helping the push to unionize, said:

“We decided we needed a voice. … We needed a say in how this place operated and the union was the tool that was available to us.”

If the move is successful, the Tribune will likely follow the rapidly expanding number of news organizations that have become unionized in recent years.

“For a long time, we didn’t think we needed it. 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.”

Now, guild organizers are encouraging Tribune employees to turn in signature cards to support representation by the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America. The NG-CWA also unionized employees at the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and The Baltimore Sun.

James Warren, a former managing editor for the Tribune, said:

“The notion of unionization among newsroom employees is both strikingly ironic and a sign of unsettled times through the media.”

Now, Warren is the executive editor of NewsGuard, a company that will assess the credibility of a variety of news and information sites. He notes that the Tribune’s original publisher, Robert McCormick, was a staunch conservative who loathed unions.

“McCormick, a notorious ideological foe of President Franklin Roosevelt, hated unions. And while unions did represent production employees at his flagship Chicago Tribune, they never got footing among journalists since the company melded a distinct and soothing paternalism with the pragmatism of matching or exceeding whatever unions bargained for reporters and editors at its rival papers.”

Fortunately, that anti-union attitude is no longer prevalent at the Tribune, and many more news organizations are joining unions. The Intercept, The Huffington Post, Vox, Vice, Slate, Gizmodo, and even The Onion have jumped on the bandwagon.

It’s sad that the people we rely on to bring us the news have to fight so hard to make a living; especially in the era of President “fake news” Donald Trump and unfair and unbalanced Fox News.

Featured image by Lisa Andres via Flickr/CC-By-2.0.