Dozens of journalists who cover communities ranging from Long Beach to San Bernardino are prepared to walk off the job Thursday amid protracted talks with the Southern California News Group over stagnant wages, according to the SCNG Guild, the union representing the workers.
The Southern California News Group publishes 11 newspapers across Southern California including the Press-Telegram, Grunion Gazette, Pasadena Star-News and the Orange County Register. SCNG’s parent company is owned by Alden Global Capital, which owns about 200 newspapers nationwide.
The one-day walkout is intended to apply pressure to SCNG as workers accuse it of dragging its feet during contract negotiations, according to Kristy Hutchings, a senior reporter at the Press-Telegram and editor of the Grunion Gazette.
“I think the main point of the one-day walkout is to show management that we have a supermajority of people on our side that are willing to participate in actions like this,” she said.
There is a team of about 11 people who cover Long Beach, the South Bay and coastal communities, and Hutchings said she believed about half would not be showing up to work Thursday.
The guild said that stagnant wages have seen its members have to take on second jobs to make ends meet. The lack of investment has compromised the reporting quality in some instances as short-staffed newsrooms are forced to cover larger and larger areas, watering down the depth of coverage.
“Costs are rising and the company keeps piling on work,” the guild said in a tweet. “Yet some of us have gone as many as 15 years without a raise. We’re fed up.”
It’s estimated that about 70% of guild employees will be participating in the walkout on Thursday, which could mean leaner reporting for the Press-Telegram and 11 outlets that will have to rely on wire services or articles written by people who don’t know the community they’re covering, Hutchings said.
“We might miss something if there’s breaking news. If there’s something big, it probably won’t be covered as it would normally be,” Hutchings said.
The walkout comes as a result of little progress being made in negotiations about compensation for employees since the guild was formed roughly two years ago.
A spokesperson from SCNG did not respond to a request for comment.
Formation of the guild began in early 2021 when employees at the Press-Telegram and 20 other SCNG newspapers announced they were moving to unionize in pursuit of better working conditions, including better pay and more staff to help with daily coverage demands.
Charlie Vargas, a leader in the guild who covers casinos and entertainment primarily for the Press-Enterprise, said that after two years of negotiations, guild members are tired of waiting for a contract.
“We need a contract to make sure that the journalists that work here can afford to live in the communities they cover,” Vargas said, noting the dramatic effect inflation has had on essentials since 2021.
Vargas said the guild submitted a plan to management in November 2022 that laid out raises for everyone but was given little in the form of an answer. Vargas said SCNG responded by sending a spreadsheet that showed what the minimum wages were in the markets they worked.
“It wasn’t a serious offer. There was no language involved. It was just numbers,” Vargas said.
While newspapers as a whole have been struggling due to a combination of factors including the loss of ad revenue and struggles to get people to pay for content, Vargas said that SCNG’s issues aren’t believed to be a money problem.
He pointed to Alden’s July 2023 purchase of the San Diego Union-Tribune after telling guild members for months that there was no money to pay higher salaries.
“The money is there,” Vargas said.
The decision to move forward with the walkout didn’t come lightly, Vargas said. A donation fund has been set up to help guild members who are participating in the strike be able to make up for their lost wages.
Hutchings said that she hopes readers understand where the guild is coming from and supports workers by not reading Press-Telegram or Grunion Gazette articles Thursday.
“Don’t click,” Hutchings said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct that Vargas’ work primarily appears in the Press-Enterprise, not Press-Telegram.