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Unions protest over potential L.A. Times sale to Koch brothers

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About 300 labor-union members and other activists staged a demonstration Tuesday to protest the potential sale of the Los Angeles Times to the billionaire politically conservative Koch brothers.

Demonstrators marched outside the downtown L.A. headquarters of Oaktree Capital Management, an investment firm that holds about a 20% stake in Tribune Co., which owns The Times.

Protesters alleged that Charles and David Koch, wealthy siblings who fund conservative causes, want to buy The Times in order to skew the paper’s coverage to favor anti-union objectives.

The protesters picketed Oaktree because the firm manages pension investments on behalf of unionized government employees, including those in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

"We don’t want that kind of thing going on with our money,” said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “That’s like us selling you a car so you can run us over.”

Oaktree said in a prepared statement that no decisions have been made about a potential sale of The Times.

“Our understanding is that, contrary to recent press reports, Tribune has made no decision to sell the Los Angeles Times or its other newspapers,” the statement said. “Oaktree is proud to have helped Tribune and its papers emerge from bankruptcy and appreciates our community’s concern for the future of the Los Angeles Times."

Koch Industries in a statement said that published reports of its interest in purchasing The Times are "pure speculation." The company also said it respects unions, and that 30% of its U.S. workforce is unionized.

"We respect their status, work with them in good faith, and honor the terms of our collective bargaining agreements," the statement said. "Koch has mutually respectful and productive relationships with the unions that represent its employees – this has been true for more than 50 years.”

Famed musician and guitarist Ry Cooder was present at the afternoon demonstration. He entertained the crowd singing an anti-Koch song composed for the occasion.

“Don’t sell out to the Koch brothers / Don’t let the brothers in the door,” he sang. “We don’t want them taking over / That is what we’re marching for.”

Union leaders urged the City Council on Monday to come out publicly against such a deal, and consider divesting pension funds from firms that own The Times if the newspaper is sold to the two brothers.

Three council members, including mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti, have discussed changing the city’s pension investments if The Times is sold to buyers who do not support “professional and objective journalism.”

Tribune emerged from bankruptcy at the end of last year and is exploring the sale of The Times and the company’s seven other newspapers.

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