Recently departed L.A. Weekly writers like education reporter Howard Blume have been left baffled as to why they were fired or forced out. Pasadena Weekly reporter Joe Piasecki delves into changes at the 26-year-old Los Angeles alternative weekly that have led to staff anxiety and the filing of union grievances. Writer and union shop steward Erin Aubry Kaplan says the overall emphasis of the paper has gone to "softer stuff," but Editor-in-Chief Laurie Ochoa denies there is any trend toward "fluffier features and blander politics."
At least five L.A. Weekly senior editorial and art department employees -- including veteran education reporter Howard Blume -- have filed grievances with management via the International Association of Machinists, the paper's bargaining unit, reports L.A. Alternative Press. Most are alleging that they're being pushed out of their jobs without adequate union process as specified in their contracts and only because they make some of the paper's top union salaries. These charges come on the heels of the September ouster of several veteran employees at The Village Voice, which, like L.A. Weekly, is owned by Village Voice Media.
About 75 percent of the members of Local 2110 signed a letter to VVM management declaring their "profound outrage and disgust" at last month's cuts, which they chalk up to "greed on the part of the paper's owners." Sadness and paranoia now rule at the paper, says Cynthia Cotts, who also reports that two of the seven employees originally laid off have been hired back. More controversy may be just around the corner: Cotts reports that "many staffers dislike the redesign that debuts in next week's issue."
Nobody is denying that the papers and their corporate parent are still making money, but Howard Blume speculates that the recent layoff at the flagship paper in New York was designed to reassure investors that company management "can be trusted to look out for (their) interests." Blume asserts that VVM profits "have been held below investor expectations" due to a still shaky economy, rising health-care costs and issues associated with the company's controversial deal with New Times. Blume also reports that VVM reached a "tentative, compromise agreement" this week with the union at LA Weekly.
Harold Meyerson reports that "after a bitter campaign that stunned many longtime Weekly workers," advertising and promotion personnel rejected unionization by a 15-13 vote. Meyerson says management's "campaign came straight from the pages of Union Avoidance 101" and calls the post-vote Weekly "a company with its nerves on edge. Ad reps don't speak to other ad reps; friends avoid friends."