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Los Angeles Times Newsroom Votes 248-44 in Favor of Unionization

Following months of turmoil over leadership changes and corporate tumult, an overwhelming majority of Los Angeles Times employees who cast ballots voted to unionize, federal labor officials announced Friday.

The landslide vote, 248-44, paves the way for the formation of a collective bargaining unit that now has to organize before leading negotiations with parent company Tronc over pay and benefits, and other working conditions.

Leaders of the organizing committee had called for more equitable pay for women and minorities, who have complained about pay disparities. They also are calling for improved working conditions following years of newsroom cuts and a degradation of benefits.

In a note to the newsroom, leaders of the union drive expressed jubilation at the vote and encouraged newsroom employees to become involved as the union begins the process of selecting leaders to head negotiations with Tronc.

“We’ve long been a proud voice for our readers,” the email said. “Finally, we can be a proud voice for ourselves. Anyone familiar with the history of The Times — and of Los Angeles itself — knows the significance of what we’ve just accomplished.”

In a brief statement, a Tronc  spokeswoman 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 announcement follows calls for the firing or resignation of Times publisher and chief executive Ross Levinsohn. NPR on Thursday reported on two sexual-harassment settlements by Levinsohn from his past jobs. It also detailed instances of sexist and homophobic comments.

The results of the union vote cap a historic campaign by Times journalists. Over the paper’s 136-year history, it had earned a reputation for anti-union sentiment and in its heyday, Times journalists long enjoyed generous salaries and benefits.

That began changing amid a steep drop in print advertising that has affected the entire newspaper industry. But it was the 2007 purchase of the Tribune Co., the former name of the Times’ parent company, by billionaire Sam Zell that spelled the start of the company’s most pitched troubles.

Less than a year after Zell bought the company, it fell into bankruptcy. The newsroom headcount fell from more than 1,000 to about half of that, and has dropped further in recent years amid more slashing of resources.

The union drive that began in October was aggressive. Journalists extensively covered the generous compensation of Tronc executives, highlighting the use of private jets by Tronc’s non-executive chairman, Michael Ferro. They also criticized what they called outsized compensation packages by other executives, comparing them to what executives at the New York Times Co. make.

The Times now joins other publications like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal that have unions representing their journalists.

The tallying of the votes in downtown Los Angeles was well-attended by Times journalists who erupted into cheers when they learned of the final count. They will now become part of the Washington, D.C.-based NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America.

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