The Los Angeles Times Guild staged a one-day work stoppage at both its Los Angeles and Washington D.C. offices Friday, in response to the threat of imminent layoffs of as much as one-fifth of the newsroom’s staff. It was the first such stoppage in the publication’s history, according to the union, dating back to when the paper started printing in 1881.
Some 300 union members staged a rally in front of City Hall in Los Angeles, with several carrying pre-made signs that read, “We can’t cut our way to the future,” and “LA Times Guild Against ULPs [Unfair Labor Practices].”
In interviews with TheWrap, staffers called out Times management for asking them to give up their seniority status.
“Asking us to gut seniority for a contract in exchange for buyouts is typical union busting,” said Jaclyn Cosgrove, a Metro reporter at the Times and a member of the guild’s bargaining committee, said at the rally. “They’re trying to pit us against each other. And our members are smarter than that. They’re journalists.”
Staffers who participated in Friday’s walkout were locked out of their Slack, email and Adobe accounts, Cosgrove confirmed to TheWrap.
Matt Pearce, a Times reporter since 2012 and president of the guild, told TheWrap that a “massive layoff” would “transform our newsroom.” Cosgrove added, “We’ve been doing incredible work and I fear that’s all in jeopardy.”
The union is asking that Times management provide three things: a specific head count or salary reduction, a town hall with management and the opportunity for the union to be part of selecting the next executive editor, after Kevin Merida abruptly resigned last week.
In a statement issued Thursday, the newspaper said it needs to “reduce our operating budget going into this year and anticipate layoffs. The hardest decisions to make are those that impact our employees, and we do not come to any such decisions lightly.”
According to a report from the Times, the plan is to lay off around 100 journalists, which is nearly 20% of the newsroom. In exchange for an offer to save 50 union roles, the Times’ leadership is seeking “flexibility” to lay off who it wants and not be restricted by contractual protections for senior guild members.
Pearce, who said he had heard the 100 staffers number, said no one would “tell us exactly on the record” how many journalists are facing layoffs.
“Under our contracts, LA Times management can, in fact, lay off as many journalists as it likes,” said Pearce. “We always prefer buyouts, ways that would allow people to leave the company voluntarily rather than involuntarily… Layoffs should be conducted in some way by seniority order, and that’s what management does not want to do.”
Matt Pearce, reporter for the LA Times since 2012 and the president of the LA Times Guild, tells TheWrap that leadership at the newspaper would not confirm how many newsroom positions would be cut in pending "massive layoff." pic.twitter.com/HFacOokNDR
— TheWrap (@TheWrap) January 20, 2024
Cosgrove, who uses they/them pronouns, added that guild members “are not backing down” but that they “need management to come to the table for a fair contract and a fair proposal on any reduction.”
They later disputed management’s apparent claims that they are “waiting on a counter” from the guild, adding that the Times’ “offensive” offer “wouldn’t actually affect the number of people laid off.”
Matt Hamilton, a 10-year veteran reporter at the paper and a member of the union’s council, told TheWrap: “Our hope is to show unity as we try to get a better deal. Our goal is to protect our members, our journalism, to make sure that if there are cuts, that they are done humanely and preserve our contracts. We don’t think that’s mutually exclusive.”
On Friday, guild members flashed some of that unity. “What happens if we don’t get what we want?” one speaker who took the stage with a megaphone asked at City Hall. “Shut it down!” the crowd yelled back. Several staffers wore yellow T-shirts that read on the back: “I care most about __ in our contract.” One woman in a hat covered with sunflowers wrote “everything” in the blank space.
The work stoppage comes one week after Merida left his executive editor role at the newspaper amid tension with owner Patrick Soon-Shiong. Merida, who was in the job less than three years, was reportedly frustrated with Soon-Shiong’s involvement in the newsroom and did not want to conduct further layoffs.
If 100 positions are eliminated, it would mark the largest staff cuts since Tribune Co. bought the paper in 2000. The Times carried out layoffs in June, when it cut 74 roles from the organization, affecting over 10% of the newsroom.