In a victory for pixel-stained wretches at the Los Angeles Times, the National Labor Relations Board announced today that Times workers voted overwhelmingly — by a 5-to-1 margin — to unionize, affiliating themselves with the NewsGuild union. The guild is part of the Communications Workers of America, which had been trying to organize the LAT since 2016. It’s the first union at the paper in its 136 years, and the vote had been opposed by the paper’s owners, the corporation with the singularly ugly name “tronc” (it used to be Tribune Publishing; the name comes from “Tribune online content”).
“We respect the outcome of the election and look forward to productive conversations with union leadership as we move forward,” Tronc spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said in an email.
Tronc had fought the union drive with scary warnings about how unions offer only empty promises, as if promises from management are any great shakes. In a January 3 email, the interim editor Jim Kirk and editor in chief Lewis D’Vorkin told employees not to fall for the siren song of the union, because them sireens will tempt you onto the rocks:
[Union] leaders may tell you they can protect against layoffs but they didn’t at the New York Times, Huffington Post, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
Only the wise management of tronc, they implied, could be trusted to steer the Times past the Scylla of declining ad revenue and the Charybdis of fading leadership. And then we ran out of Odyssey references.
Among other matters that drove the union drive, employees were cheesed that the LA Times’s management had entered a $5 million consulting contract — per year — with a company owned by Chairman Michael Ferro, possibly because it was a little too much like something the Trump family would pull. Executives also sold off the Times’s historic Art Deco building downtown, and its printing presses, and are now looking for something more modest — for the reporters, anyway, who would share “communal work tables” while the execs aim to score a helipad and personal nightclub for their own use.
Even before the results of the union vote were in, the guild was feeling its oats, and called Thursday for the resignation of Ross Levinsohn, the paper’s fourth publisher since Eddy Hartenstein left in 2014 after a six-year run. Levinsohn was the subject of a jaw-dropping National Public Radio story published yesterday, comparing Levinsohn’s behavior toward female employees unfavorably with that of a “frat boy.”
Levinsohn had previously been sued twice, at different companies, for sexual harassment. And what a charming corporate culture he encouraged at one of them:
By his own sworn testimony, Levinsohn admitted to rating the relative “hotness” of his female colleagues in office banter as a vice president at a digital media company. He also testified that he speculated about whether a woman who worked for him there was a stripper on the side.
Celia Francis, a former executive at the now-defunct search engine company Alta Vista, testified in a sexual harassment case brought by another woman, Christine Fox. Francis said he’d warned others about the work climate under Levinsohn when she left the company:
“Ross was creating a frat house environment,” Francis testified at the time. “His behavior was inappropriate. … I wanted to let them know they should do something about it.”
But in his defense, Levinsohn insisted that he only took part in frat-boy talk when there were no women present, so if that doesn’t make him a model of good behavior, what possibly could? Fox and Alta Vista settled the case for an undisclosed amount, and Levinsohn later went to work at NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch’s sexual harassment factory, where he was again sued for sexual harassment, this time for overlooking bad behavior by a subordinate. That accusation eventually resulted in a settlement as well.
In addition to that and other inappropriate behavior with lady people, Levinsohn was also not exactly A Ally.
Levinsohn once told an executive for the Hollywood Reporter he would not stay at the publication’s lunch honoring the entertainment business’s most influential fashion stylists because he would have to be surrounded by gays — using a vulgar epithet for them, according to the executive.
Yes, apparently in this century. So far, the American Family Association has yet to rush to Levinsohn’s defense.
But he did try to throw his own weight around: After NPR’s David Folkenflik emailed a detailed list of questions to Levinsohn and to a Times spokesperson, Levinsohn responded not by contacting Folkenflik, but by calling up NPR CEO Jarl Mohn to call the story’s allegations “lies” and to hint that he’d sue the public radio network.
By Thursday afternoon, tronc had hired a crisis management expert, Charles Sipkins, who issued a statement saying the company was investigating the allegations in the NPR story, adding
At Tronc, we expect all employees to act in a way that supports a culture of diversity and inclusion. We will take appropriate action to address any behavior that falls short of these expectations.
Levinsohn has not been suspended, but we bet he’s been placed on Extra Double-Secret Probation. Levinsohn is currently making one million dollars a year — plus, bizarrely, a cut of the licensing fees for reporters’ work. Gee, is that how that usually works? Readers, it is not! But as tronc’s board of executives seems to be hollowing out the paper like it’s the Philippines and they’re Ferdinand Marcos, we guess it’s as normal as any of their other fiduciary roles.
And this is now your OPEN THREAD!