Collective bargaining is good for workers with one notable exception: when those workers are represented by a “fake union.” Employees without a union understand their position. It’s weak. They need union representation and should organize. Employees represented by a fake union falsely believe that their best interests are being represented, outsource collective bargaining to their union representatives, and get screwed without knowing it.
As a former employee and plaintiff in a lawsuit against the LA Times, and as a long-time union advocate, I was thrilled when an overwhelming majority of Times journalists voted to unionize. Unfortunately, it turns out that the LAT Guild is one of those dreaded fake unions.
My case has kept me busy. But over time I began to wonder: why is a union that purports to represent LA Times workers so silent about my case?
Beginning with the newspaper’s previous owners Tribune Publishing and continuing under new owner, biotech billionaire Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, LA Times lawyers have aggressively argued in court that the First Amendment immunizes them from all wrongful termination claims. In other words, the LA Times (and all other media companies in the state of California) should be allowed to fire their employees for any reason, including gender discrimination, racial discrimination, discrimination based on sexual orientation, etc. Obviously workers cannot and should not abide such an argument. Any union worth its salt would be in court, by my side, fighting not just for me but for its own workers so that hard-earned basic employee rights would get be rolled back to the 1950s.
But when I reached out to the Guild, repeatedly, I got no reply–nothing but crickets. Guild reps are journalists. Not commenting is not what journalists do. When journalists go silent, I get suspicious. So I did a little digging.
The LAT Guild Twitter feed told me everything I needed to know. It had hundreds of followers but it only followed two Twitter feeds: those of owner Dr. Pat and the Times’ PR flack.
Weirdly, it stated that the Guild’s goal was to “safeguard” the Los Angeles Times and its journalists. The LA Times is the employer. The enemy.
No union should ever be in the business of protecting the opposite side in labor management negotiations. A union has only one side: labor. Dr. Pat has more than enough power and money to protect himself.
This attitude, reflected by public pronouncements issued by the LAT Guild, reminds me of the 1980s, when the so-called “team concept” was popular among auto unions and others. The idea was that labor and management had shared interests, specifically a mutual interest in their industry doing well. As far as it goes, that’s true. But it’s truer that labor and management have an inherently adversarial relationship. Management wants to extract as much work as possible for as little pay from workers; labor wants to earn as much pay for as little labor as possible. Most of those “we are all in it together” arrangements subsequently collapsed due to that simple truth.
The LAT Guild hasn’t gotten the message. Rather than boldly confront Dr. Pat, instead of militant action, this classic example of a fake union engages in boosterism, pussyfooting and millennial-style social media campaigns involving silly memes. Every now and then, they do a lunch-hour walkout. Strike? No way. Fight back an attack against them in court? Uh-uh.
Meanwhile, management is laughing their way to the bank.
According to the union itself, management lawyers have been wasting their time for months often showing up late or not at all to scheduled negotiating sessions. Dr. Pat has suggested that he has a 100-year plan for the survival of the LA Times–he’s 65! I want to see that!–so the LAT Guild has quite reasonably asked for a successorship provision that would require that any future company that buys the paper would adhere to the terms of the next contract. If Dr. Pat is telling the truth, if he really isn’t planning to sell the paper, he should easily be able to agree to this. But he’s adamantly refusing. That should tell LAT Guild negotiators everything they need to know.
It has been many long weeks of frustration for union negotiators as they’ve gotten jerked around by company lawyers. Having dealt with some of their lawyers, I can’t say that I’m surprised. They are bullies. They only respond to force. And they’re certainly not confronting any force in the form of the fake union.
Because the LAT Guild refuses to comment on my case, I can only speculate why. I imagine they are trying to maintain a friendly relationship with Dr. Pat. No doubt the word has gone out through LA Times corporate that no one should say anything about my case lest they be fired or punished.
If I were a member of the LAT Guild, I would ask myself, why the heck is the Guild, why am I scared to exercise my fundamental First Amendment right as a reporter to express myself? The whole point of belonging to a union is that you don’t have to be scared of your employer.