LA Times Guild: Classic Example of a Fake Union

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.

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About Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.

5 thoughts on “LA Times Guild: Classic Example of a Fake Union

  1. Investigative Journalism at its finest! I assume you’ve still got email addresses for your former cow orkers? Yeah, email this to them.

    Even more bizarre is the outright hatred of unions by workers – low-income rightards especially.

  2. I laugh and laugh.
    What does it say about these “journalists” that they can’t figure out that they need a strong union? With the industry collapsing left and right, how do they expect to survive? God, I despise what has happened to my industry. It’s like watching a loved one turn into a crack addict.

  3. @CH

    Re: “hatred of unions by workers – low-income rightards especially.”

    One of the “rightards” I worked with asked why there were to be no raises (in a bad economy), considering that the company had increasing profits.

    I explained to him that he had his causes and effects mixed up; workers don’t get raises because profits go up; profits go up when wages don’t.

    Amazing how little effect reality has on beliefs, so much so that this guy was blind to the facts.

    Also:

    I was in Madison, WI during the capitol building occupation of Scott Walker’s governorship.

    Teachers and police protested, but they feared union decertification and settled for a recall election instead of holding a general strike.

    Despite one of the Democrat legislators saying on the radio that they wanted the same thing that Walker wanted, only less abruptly, the Democrats were the only meager opposition to Walker in the recall election, and they lost to him again.

  4. La Times Union vs. a Soviet Labor Union
    Both lack the power to fight for better wages but Soviet labor Unions at least tried to get the government to crack down on bad managment and they pushed for perks for the workers, like a gym, sports tickets or a vacation…

    From Wikipedia :
    During the Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil War that immediately followed, there were all sorts of ideas about how to organize and manage industries, and many people thought that the trade unions would be the vehicle of workers’ control of industries. By the Stalinist era of the 1930s, it was clear that the party and government made the rules and that the trade unions were not permitted to challenge them in any substantial way. In the decades after Stalin, the worst of the powerlessness of the unions was past, but Soviet trade unions remained something closer to company unions, answering to the party and government, than to truly independent organizations. They did, however, challenge aspects of mismanagement more successfully than they had under Stalin, and they played important parts in the fabric of daily life, such as using a sports club, obtaining theatre tickets, booking vacation stays, and more.

  5. Yellow unions refuse to support journalists ; Amnesty International says nothing about Julian Paul Assange or Chelsea Manning. So what else is new ?…

    Henri