Press Operators at ‘L.A. Times’ Vote to Unionize

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Press operators at the Los Angeles Times narrowly agreed to unionize after 16 years of failed organizing efforts, according to vote totals announced Saturday.

“It’s been decades in coming,” said Marty Keegan, an official In New York with the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters union.

“L.A. Times has been kind of a stalwart of non-unionism in our industry,” he said.

The employees voted 140-131 to join the union, Los Angeles Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said.

Four other ballots were being challenged, according to Keegan.

The workers cast ballots Thursday and Friday, with votes counted by members of the National Labor Relations Board, which will now certify the election.

The Teamsters will represent as many as 300 employees at two Times printing plants in downtown Los Angeles and Costa Mesa.

The newspaper has historically opposed unions, and there was no change in that policy when Chicago-based Tribune Co. bought Times Mirror Co. in 2000. Tribune Co. announced in September it was willing to sell all or part of its assets, which include other newspapers and television stations.

Workers in the Los Angeles printing facility approved a three-year union contract in the 1960s. Several failed organizing attempts were made after it expired.

Publisher David Hiller had sent a videotaped message to press operators urging them to vote against joining the union and noting that their wages were among the highest in the industry.

“We have a good thing going and we should keep it going together,” he said.

A journeyman in the press room currently makes about $61,000 a year, but recent salary hikes have been limited to about 2 percent.

The newspaper closed a printing plant in the San Fernando Valley about a year ago, cutting 47 jobs.

Keegan said workers began unionizing because of a “downward spiral in working conditions” and fears that they might be laid off.

Dean Baquet was forced to resign in November as editor of the paper in a power struggle with Tribune over budget cuts.

After the press operators vote is certified, they can require whoever might acquire the newspaper to buy their contract and keep them on board, Keegan said.

“It guarantees stability of the work force during the changeover,” he said.

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