Heath Freeman, president of the New York Daily News-owning hedge fund Alden Global Capital, may soon be sporting a moniker he is likely to detest: top union organizer in the country.
On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board revealed that the Orange County Register, the LA Daily News and nine other Southern California daily papers that belong to Southern California News Group, a unit of Alden-controlled Media News Group, voted to form a union that will be affiliated with the NewsGuild.
The effort marks one of the largest unionization drives at a newspaper chain in years.
“This is a momentous day for the workers of the Southern California News Group,” said Josh Cain, a reporter at the Los Angeles Daily News and a member of the Guild’s Organizing Committee.
“Some of these newspapers are unionizing for the first time. This means their staff, who have endured years of low pay as their newsrooms shrank around them, will now have a seat at the bargaining table,” Cain said.
Alden, which just added to its newspaper holdings by buying Tribune Publishing, had refused to grant voluntary recognition to the union after a majority of its Southern California News Group workers requested NewsGuild representation back in February.
MNG had argued before the NLRB that the 11 papers — which also include the Press-Enterprise (Riverside), the Press-Telegram (Long Beach), the Daily Breeze (Torrance), the Sun (San Bernardino), the Pasadena Star-News, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Whittier Daily News and the Redlands Daily Facts — should be represented by separate locals.
But the National Labor Relations Board rejected that argument in May, setting up the vote that culminated Friday. The results of the NLRB election revealed Friday that the union won by 69-19, a more 3-to-1 margin.
The union will represent about 140 non-management editorial workers, including reporters, photographers, copy editors and designers.
In a statement, the Southern California Newspaper Group only said: “Our focus is to continue to produce solid local journalism and develop a sustainable model for local news,” the company said.
Alden has a reputation for making deep cuts at newspapers in its MNG, which does business as Digital First Media and runs the Denver Post, the Boston Herald and The Trentonian, among others.
While the California papers are still a long way from reaching a collective bargaining agreement, their unionization will complicate any plans Alden may have to make drastic cuts to staffing.
“The win could at a minimum complicate what Alden can do,” noted William Gould, a past chairman of the NLRB who famously intervened in the 1995 baseball strike and ordered owners to rescind free agency and arbitration rules they had forced on the Major League Players Association.
“Once a vote is certified, an owner is limited in what it can do in business decisions, particularly those that have an adverse impact on workers,” said Gould, author of the memoir “Labored Relations: Law, Politics and the NLRB.”
Unilateral cuts in pay or involuntary layoffs become nearly impossible to force through without a union’s approval, even if the company and union have not yet hammered out a collective bargaining agreement, he said.
“Having a union, an owner is obligated to negotiate,” said Gould. “It complicates Alden’s ability to cost-cut.”
Alden, which last month took over Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News and seven other major metro dailies, began dangling voluntary buyout offers to editorial workers within days of its May 24 takeover.
The deadline for Daily News workers to accept the buyouts was extended until June 16. But so far, there appear to be few takers as the buyouts were deemed too skimpy for long-term employees who are usually enticed to leave with two weeks’ pay for each year of service.
The package offers eight weeks’ pay for workers with three or less years on the job, and 12 weeks of pay for workers with four years of service. But after four years, it only offers one week’s pay for each additional year of service.
One insider termed the package, which oddly seems to favor staffers with less seniority, “lame.”
Among the known buyout takers at the News is metro editor Ginger Otis, who was promoted after the previous owners in 2018 laid off so many people that they halved the newsroom in a single day. She reportedly said on a Zoom call that she did not want to live through that again.
Deputy metro editor Rob Dominguez also applied for a buyout as did Jared McCallister, a veteran with some 40 years on the job who once edited a long-since-folded glossy insert aimed at West Indians, CaribBeat.
They are slated to be gone by Friday. Insiders said they are the only known applicants among the 70-plus people left in the newsroom.
Daily News editor-in-chief Robert York, who earlier ran Tribune’s Allentown Morning Call, has confided to staffers that he intends to stay under the new regime.
On a Zoom call to staffers Tuesday, York said Dominguez, who had earlier announced to staff that he was taking a buyout, has apparently been convinced to stick around. Sources speculate he could be in line to be the managing editor.
Eddie Glazarex, who was in charge of front-page layout in print, and news editor Isaac Lopez will be exiting with a package along with Laura Nahmias, who is a member of the editorial board.