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NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Brandon Rees, who helps oversee the AFL-CIO's pension fund investments, is trying to convince Tribune (TRBAA) to shelve any sale of its eight daily newspapers, which include The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune.
David and Charles Koch
Rees' lobbying was prompted by David and Charles Koch, the Tea
Party-funding multi-billionaire owners of the oil and chemicals
conglomerate Koch Industries, who have said they may bid for the
newspapers if Tribune decides to put them up for sale. Tribune, which
could owe as much as $225 million in back taxes, needs the cash.
Rees, the acting director of the AFL's Office of Investment, is
realistic about the situation. If Tribune wants to sell and the Koch
brothers want to buy, there are few humans on the planet capable of
outbidding them. Each of the Koch brothers has a personal fortune
totaling $43 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg,
while Koch Industries generates $115 billion in annual sales. The
brothers are the sixth and seventh wealthiest people in the world.
The Kochs have also been among the country's largest funders of
groups that seek to undercut public pension fund benefits and curtail
collective bargaining by municipal unions. Labor unions, as well as
groups urging steps to combat global warming, another Koch foe, are
loath to see these dailies become a unit of one of the world's largest
fossil fuel providers.
Regardless of the overall decline in circulation, the papers
remain major institutions in their home regions. They include the
largest dailies in Illinois, California, Maryland (The Baltimore Sun) and Connecticut (Hartford Courant) as well as two in the politically-charged state of Florida (Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale), and also the national Spanish-language daily Hoy.
Ironically, the sale could be an immediate gain for some of the
union federation's members. That's because billions of dollars in
members' pension fund monies are managed by L.A.-based Oaktree Capital
Management, the world's largest distressed debt investor, which owns a
23% stake in Tribune, making it the media company's largest shareholder.
Rees argues that selling now, even at a profit, would shortchange
union members. Tribune's newspapers, which exited a messy and
debilitating four-year bankruptcy in December, are beginning to show
improvement as Oaktree President Bruce Karsh, who doubles as Tribune's
chairman, said in a letter last month to national and California labor
leaders. Tribune's "publishing assets are performing ahead of plan thus
far this year" said Karsh, adding that a sale is only one option the
company is considering.
Nonetheless, Rees is pressing Tribune to hold off on an auction for
its newspapers, valued in the company's 2012 reorganization plan at $623
"Oaktree as short-term investors may want this transaction
now whereas their clients, the pension plans, are longer-term investors
who may benefit from continued ownership of these newspapers as they
continue to adjust to market realities," Rees said in an interview on
Thursday. "If the Kochs, who are certainly smart investors, were to be
buyers here, that demonstrates there's still value to these media
properties. From our standpoint, there may be greater profits to be had
At a gathering Wednesday in Washington hosted by the
Communications Workers of America-Newspaper Guild, union activists and
critics of media consolidation stopped short of painting a
sky-is-falling picture were the Koch brothers to buy Tribune's
newspapers. Guild President Bernie Lunzer said he's refraining from Koch
bashing, adding that there may even be opportunities to organize
workers at these newspapers. (Currently, the Baltimore Sun is the only Tribune newspaper represented by the Guild.)
"There is a great deal of unrest among professional workers, who
don't have a history of union joining behavior," one expert says. "They
represent the frontiers of unionization in America."
NEW YORK — The next wave of union protesters isn't blue collar. It's lawyers, paralegals, secretaries, helicopter pilots, judges, insurance agents and podiatrists.
Some experts see professional workers as the future of the labor movement… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
white-collar workers are not exactly the picture of the labor movement,
but they are becoming a more essential part of it as they turn to
unions for help in a tough economy as bosses try to squeeze out more
have been downsizing, asking employees to take on larger roles, making
them work more hours," said Nicole Korkolis, spokeswoman for the Office
and Professional Employees International Union. "People are feeling like
they need an advocate."
Members of UAW Local 2320 in New York,
nearly half of whom are lawyers, voted to strike Wednesday, after their
employer, Legal Services NYC, pushed for cuts to benefits in a recent
contract negotiation.Many of them had never been involved with
labor unions before, but they said decisions by management led them to
take the drastic action of voting to strike.
"They're pushing a
lot of changes that are making it a less pleasant place to work," said
Logan Schiff, 30, who recently left his job in the corporate world to
become a lawyer helping clients facing foreclosures on Staten Island.
many in his union, he puts the blame on his employer's board members,
who he says are unwilling to compromise. "These are corporate lawyers,
making millions of dollars a year, dictating the policies of
management," he said.
Some experts see professional workers such
as Schiff as the future of the labor movement in a job market where
white-collar employment is increasing and the manufacturing industry is
steadily diminishing. Professionals account for 62% of the U.S.
workforce, up from 15% in 1977.
But labor hasn't usually done a
good job in recruiting professional workers, said Gary Chaison, a
professor of labor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. The labor
movement tends to focus on professions that have a large number of
employees, such as fast food or hotel workers.
are hard to organize. They see themselves as individuals promoted on
their talents, and often leave their workplaces rather than protest at
them, Chaison said. Changing labor laws also have made it harder to
organize workplaces than ever before.
"There is a great deal of
unrest among professional workers, who don't have a history of
union-joining behavior," Chaison said. "They represent the frontiers of
unionization in America."
The economy, though, may be driving more employees to look at unions.
of the most clicked-on links on the professional employees section of
the AFL-CIO's website is "I'm a professional. What can a union do for
me?" said Paul Almeida, president of the national union's Department for
you come out of a recession, people feel more secure, and say, 'I've
taken all the hits and done what I'm supposed to. I deserve my share of
what's going on,'" he said.
The legal profession seems especially ripe for organizing because of the abysmal job market.
Washington, D.C., for example, a group of administrative law judges is
trying to form a union under the International Federation of
Professional and Technical Engineers. In Canada, legal aid lawyers in
Ontario also are trying to organize, in part, because their employer
asks employees to share computers to do their work.
At one time,
professional workers were encouraged to give input to management to
improve the way companies are run. Now they are treated like cogs on the
wheel, regardless of the amount of experience or the number of degrees
they have under their belt, said Paul Shearon, secretary-treasurer of
the federation. "Their level of influence has really diminished, and
it's had a dramatic impact on their workplace environments," he said.
professionals have pricey educations and are more sensitive to unequal
distributions of wealth. That's made them more willing to speak out
about inequality at the workplace, said Harley Shaiken, a professor at
Berkeley who specializes in labor issues.
That can mean threatening to unionize to get better contracts, if not actually organizing.
workers have, in many cases, the reach to see how others are doing so
much better," he said. "Their supervisors have gotten raises, and the
[employees] are marginalized. That difference in status can be
Professional healthcare workers in
California picketed across five UC medical centers Wednesday, for
example, protesting raises for executives in the face of cuts to wages
and benefits for employees.
Still, for many professionals, there
can be some culture shock in getting involved in unions. Recently
organized workers at New York's Urban Justice Center who went to a
public union meeting were treated to singalongs of "Solidarity Forever"
and Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid," according to a newsletter.