Unions protest over potential sale of L.A. Times to Koch brothers
About 300 labor union members and other activists staged a demonstration to protest the potential sale of the Los Angeles Times to the politically conservative Koch brothers.
Demonstrators marched outside the downtown L.A. headquarters of Oaktree Capital Management, an investment firm that holds a roughly 20% stake in Tribune Co., which owns The Times.
Protesters alleged that Charles and David Koch, billionaire siblings who fund conservative causes, want to buy The Times in order to skew the paper’s coverage to favor anti-union objectives.
Demonstrators carrying signs that read “No Koch Hate in L.A.” marched in front of the Oaktree building on Tuesday afternoon. The building’s security guards placed yellow security gates in front of two entrances where the protesters marched.
The protesters targeted 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.”
Tribune emerged from bankruptcy at the end of last year and is exploring a possible sale of The Times and the company’s seven other newspapers.
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.”
Koch Industries, based in Kansas, is one of the nation’s largest privately owned businesses, with interests in energy, fertilizers and building products. The company is a major contributor to political groups that espouse less regulation and smaller government. The brothers have been prominent backers of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose high-profile battle with that state’s public-sector unions drew nationwide attention.
Speakers at Tuesday’s demonstration repeatedly touched on that fight to rouse the pro-union crowd. Famed musician and guitarist Ry Cooder entertained the gathering with an old labor ballad retrofitted with new lyrics bashing the Koch brothers.
“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 Los Angeles 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.”