The troubled media company Tronc agreed on Sunday evening to recognize unions representing journalists in negotiations in its Chicago area publications, including its iconic Chicago Tribune which is an impending confrontation with federal regulators, NPR has learned
It's a notable reversal for Tronc, historically known in various enterprise iterations for his hostility to organized work.
Tronc proposed a conciliatory tone in a statement to NPR on Sunday evening, saying it was due to productive talks with union representatives
"In the process, we must be united as one organization with one important goal – to help the company itself as a company to develop and grow and to offer our readers first-class journalism, "the statement said.
This is the second time in four months that a major Tronc news channel has successfully crossed the union route.
In January, Tronc was heavily beaten in a government-supervised labor vote at his dominant newspaper The Los Angeles Times despite a concerted management campaign to thwart trade union efforts.
Both the Chicago and Los Angeles papers are anti-union editorial traditions dating back more than a century. Now both unions will have.
Just weeks after the overwhelming vote, Tronc made a deal to sell the LA Times to one of the parent company's largest shareholders, Patrick Soon-Shiong. This deal was not completed, although it was expected by the end of April.
The organizers of the work said Tronc has agreed to recognize three negotiating units within the same Chicago union: one for the Chicago Tribune and the entertainment-oriented tabloid RedEye; a second for suburban publications and the Spanish-language Chicago newspaper Hoy ; and a third for the growing enterprise-based design and printing center that has centralized many editorial production functions for Tronc's publications in Chicago and beyond.
The First Two Trade Union Chapters Representing Workers in Larger Publications and Smaller Suburbs
"It's long gone that the Tribune's journalists and their community publications have a say in how our newspaper works," he said Charles J. Johnson, a Tribune homepage editor, who is one of the main organizers of the Chicago Newspaper Guild chapter. "We have been badly treated by a number of company owners, with Tronc being only the youngest, and we have decided to take some control over the future of our journalism in the city of Chicago."
In Chicago, the organizers said they had signed signed union cards from more than 85 percent of the more than 280 journalists they wanted to represent.
Tronc's leadership and the top chair of the Tribune Bruce Dold, first had the call of the Voluntary recognition organizers rejected saying that they had common goals. "We believe in transparency, open dialogue and fairness – that's what we are as journalists and what the Tribune is leading," Dold wrote last month.
The reversal of fate in Chicago will likely encourage Newsroom staff at other Tronc newspapers than the company's publications in Hartford, Conn .; Orlando, Florida; and South Florida. The newsroom of Baltimore Sun is already unionized.
Chicago organizers raised concerns about uncompetitive wages compared to peers; Fairness in compensation for women and journalists of color; and Tronc's commitment to journalism.
These questions have been repeated in other newspapers, notably Alden Global Capital. The editor of Boulder Daily Camera was dismissed for publishing an article on corporate property, and the editor of The Denver Post resigned last week after the paper murder he wrote, Alden was Global.
Former Tronc chairman and controlling owner Michael Ferro resigned in March, agreeing to sell his entire stake in the company in April after he was sexually harassed by two female business partners. His stake was purchased by a private investment firm controlled by a relative of the late Colonel Robert McCormick, the legendary leader of the Tronc predecessor, the Tribune Company. The company is now circled by potential buyers, who are reportedly owned by the Japan-based SoftBank.
The Tribune work organization efforts were inspired not only by efforts in Los Angeles, but also by a series of revelations about Tronc's business development and business decisions, including executive compensation.
Tronc agreed to pay Ferro $ 5 million a year as advisory fee to Chairman of the Board. The company's CEO (and new chairman) Justin Dearborn, a longtime assistant to Ferro, received a compensation package of more than $ 8 million last year. Former CEO of LA Times Ross Levinsohn received $ 6.9 million in wages and salary last year, although he started in late August. Levinsohn was forced out of the race after NPR had asked questions about his past workplace behavior, but now he is the digital CEO of Tronc.
"The people who take over this work at the Tribune – and I think that is common and especially in American newspapers – do this job because they believe in their importance and because they believe that they are working for a democratic society is essential, "said Johnson. "This work is carried out as a work of love, but as wages and benefits continue to fall and abuses continue through corporate property not only at Tronc but also at other employers … people are wondering if this is a job they do can continue to do. "