Journalists at Press-Telegram, Grunion Gazette and sister papers launch drive to unionize

Journalists at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and more than 20 other daily newspapers and weekly publications across Southern California announced plans Wednesday to unionize their newsrooms in response to years of cuts by their ownership.

The unionization push at the chain of papers known as the Southern California News Group includes marquee publications like the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Daily Breeze and the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Together, they reach millions of monthly readers and over 450,000 Sunday print subscribers, according to a statement from the union organizers.

Organizers at the newly formed SCNG Guild said that the push to unionize comes in response to continued budget and staffing cuts by the chain’s parent company, Alden Global Capital’s MediaNews Group.

Alden, a New York-based hedge fund, has gained a reputation for making deep cuts to newsrooms it acquires as it squeezes more profits from them. Doug Arthur, an analyst at Huber Research specializing in media and internet stocks, described Alden in the Washington Post as the “ultimate cash flow mercenary” that seeks cash flow to “bleed to death.”

Organizers of the SCNG Guild said that nearly three quarters of non-management editorial employees—including reporters, photographers, designers and copy editors—have already signed authorization cards to unionize.

Josh Cain, one of the guild’s organizing committee members, said that once those cards are submitted to and counted by the National Labor Relations Board, an election to formally unionize the publications could be held as soon as eight weeks from now.

“In the meantime, the board will send out mail ballots for union members to return by that date,” Cain said in a text Wednesday. “Then they’ll count them up, and we’ll win.”

Cain, a reporter with the LA Daily News, said that if the unionization is approved, the guild would push for pay raises, better working conditions and “basic fairness,” things the guild believes can be achieved through a new contract.

“We have some reporters who work two jobs to support themselves,” Cain said. “Some reporters are barely hanging on to their houses. We need to be paid better.”

Hayley Munguia, a Press-Telegram reporter who covers Long Beach City Hall, said on Twitter that she’s been at the company four and a half years, “and my pay rate is exactly the same as the day I started (despite asking, many times, for a raise.) The sad thing is, I know I’m one of the lucky ones because there are so many employees who have been here much longer.”

Stephanie Stutzman, a reporter with the Grunion Gazette since 2017, said that while the Gazette has always had a small newsroom, she is currently the only staff writer. This requires working long hours for the remaining employees and leaning on stringers and freelance work to put together the publication.

“Our newsrooms have really been stripped to the bone and we can’t get those reporters back,” Stutzman said.

She said that the guild is hopeful that by forming a union it will offer some basic protections that don’t exist right now, like equal pay for equal work and protections from layoffs.

The unionization of newsrooms has been a growing trend over the last six years with publications across the country voting to unionize their workplaces in an attempt to improve working conditions and increase salaries. Employees at the Los Angeles Times announced they would pursue unionization in 2017 and voted 248-44 to unionize in January 2018.

Editor’s note: Several editors at the Long Beach Post left the Press-Telegram and other Alden-owned publications in 2018 while criticizing the hedge fund’s business strategy.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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