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Southern California News Group journalists vote to unionize, joining labor wave

People work at computers inside the Orange County Register newsroom.
Journalists at the Orange County Register are among about 140 nonmanagement editorial employees across 11 newspapers in the Southern California News Group represented by the SCNG Guild.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Staffers at 11 Southern California newspapers, including the Orange County Register, voted Friday to unionize, joining a wave of newsrooms turning to organized labor amid job cuts and uncertainty in the newspaper industry.

The papers make up the Southern California News Group, which is owned by Alden Global Capital — a New York hedge fund that has amassed one of the largest newspaper portfolios in the country while aggressively cutting costs at its properties.

After a 64-19 vote, the SCNG Guild now represents about 140 nonmanagement editorial employees at the Register, Los Angeles Daily News, (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, (Long Beach) Press-Telegram, (Torrance) Daily Breeze, San Bernardino Sun, Pasadena Star-News, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts.

The news group joins the Media Guild of the West, a local chapter of the NewsGuild-CWA, which represents journalists at media outlets including the Los Angeles Times.

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The vote comes at a time of rising union activity inside media organizations slammed by a waning print business and widespread competition for digital advertising and subscribers.

In the fast-changing newspaper landscape, Alden — which owns about 200 publications — has emerged as a power player, known for its acquisitions of properties including, most recently, the Chicago Tribune and the Denver Post, and its efforts to maximize its returns by quickly reducing costs.

“It’s a really great day for our co-workers and for everyone who works at these papers,” said Josh Cain, a reporter for the SCNG and an organizing committee member of the guild. “We don’t agree with the way that this hedge fund is running things, and we want a different path.”

Representatives for Alden did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for SCNG said in an emailed statement: “Our focus will continue to be producing solid local journalism and developing a sustainable model for local news in historically challenging times.”

The SCNG announced its effort to unionize in February. The group has been organizing quietly since 2018, when Alden began layoffs that slashed a third of the company’s workforce.

Hedge funds own half of the daily newspaper circulation in the United States by some estimates. Last month, Alden purchased Tribune Publishing in a $630-million deal, acquiring the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News and the Baltimore Sun.

The move alarmed SCNG journalists, who have seen their own newsroom budgets slashed in the years since Alden took ownership. SCNG editorial employees haven’t had a cost-of-living raise since 2010, though inflation has increased by more than 20% nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Friday’s vote is the latest in a wave of media organizations collectively organizing, fueled by concerns over consolidations, newsroom management issues and the industry’s general financial uncertainty. Journalists at Insider, formerly known as Business Insider, and tech workers at the New York Times unionized with the NewsGuild in April.

This week, journalists at the Atlantic unionized. The New Yorker union is currently threatening to strike after 2 1/2 years of bargaining with its parent company, Condé Nast, citing low pay, lack of job security and high healthcare costs, in addition to a culture that neglects work-life balance.

Local journalism from the smallest outlets is particularly under threat. Between 2004 and 2019, the number of local journalists across the United States has halved, according to research by the University of North Carolina. Since 2018, 300 newspapers have closed, 6,000 newsroom jobs have disappeared, and print newspaper circulation has fallen by 5 million.


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