Newsroom To 'Chicago Tribune': With 85 Percent Backing, We Have Votes For Union : The Two-Way Tribune journalists give corporate owner Tronc a day to recognize the union voluntarily. Otherwise, they say they will force a federal vote that "will result overwhelmingly in our favor."
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Newsroom To 'Chicago Tribune': With 85 Percent Backing, We Have Votes For Union

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Newsroom To 'Chicago Tribune': With 85 Percent Backing, We Have Votes For Union

Newsroom To 'Chicago Tribune': With 85 Percent Backing, We Have Votes For Union

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RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Journalists at the Chicago Tribune say they're one step closer to unionizing. They voted overwhelmingly in favor of it and have given the paper's owners 24 hours to respond. It's a big turnaround for the paper, which has historically been nonunion and proud of it. NPR's David Folkenflik has been following this, and he joins us from our studios in New York.

Hey, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the Chicago Tribune is owned by Tronc, formerly known as Tribune Publishing. So how are the paper's owners going to respond to this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, so the labor organizers say that 85 percent of the journalists who would be in this bargaining unit have said that they've signed union authorization cards, and it means if they would go to a vote, it looks like they would win overwhelmingly. So right now Tronc is trying to figure this out. It appears as though they're hiring, I'm told, some fairly serious labor relations lawyers. And the question is whether they accede to reality or buy them some time, kick the can down the line and force the union to go to the National Labor Relations Board for a federally overseen vote, which it would appear that the newsroom union would win overwhelmingly.

MARTIN: Huh. So basically, the journalists at the paper saying, we want to do this; most of us want to do this; you can either help us do it a short way or make us go through all the hoops. And...

FOLKENFLIK: That's right.

MARTIN: The paper might just do that. So why is this happening now? What's the motivation behind the union effort at this point?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there have been two waves of layoffs at the Chicago Tribune just in the past six, seven months. And that's followed years of financial instability. There was a bankruptcy and debt, waves of cuts and consolidation. I think the Tribune - this is very rough numbers - about a third as large as it was at its height, and they say they want to have job protection, and they say they want to ensure the quality of coverage over time to the people of greater Chicago. And that's why they're standing up and doing this.

MARTIN: There was an early - or an earlier effort at forming a union at the Tribune's sister publication - right? - the LA Times. What ended up happening there?

FOLKENFLIK: They won overwhelmingly, as well, after months of internal turmoil at the Times over the paper's publisher, the paper's editor in chief and plans to outsource a significant amount of digital jobs in a way that would have generated a ton of volume of content outside the control of places like LA, Chicago, Baltimore and their other newsrooms. Tronc was so appalled and fought that fiercely. Tronc sold the paper not - you know, less than three weeks after the fact. That sale is expected to go through in coming weeks. And the real question is what they're going to do now, you know? The chairman of Tronc, who is the controlling minority owner, effectively sold his shares after he was enmeshed in this sexual harassment scandal, but he got out of the company and sold his shares to a relative of the former owner of Tribune, the McCormick family. So there's a question as what they're going to do in response, how hard they're going to fight at this moment.

MARTIN: All right, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reporting this morning from our studios in New York. David, thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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