Long Beach Post hires anti-union lawyer amid ongoing strike

An employment expert likened the act of hiring an Ogletree Deakins lawyer to "planting a flag saying 'unions are not welcome here.'"

Long Beach Post hires anti-union lawyer amid ongoing strike
Community members and fellow unions rally alongside the Long Beach Media Guild as they march through Downtown Long Beach on March 25, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson

The Long Beach Journalism Initiative, parent company of the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal, has hired an anti-union lawyer to represent the nonprofit amid a heated labor dispute that began last month.

Three reporters remain on strike in solidarity with nine workers who were laid off on March 22 during a unionization effort that began earlier that month. Monday marked 12 days since 13 members of the Long Beach Media Guild walked off the job during a meeting with CEO Melissa Evans.

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Amid a unionization campaign and the filing of an unfair labor practice charge by Media Guild of the West against LBJI, Evans and the nonprofit’s Board of Directors hired Orange County-based labor lawyer Daniel Adlong, who is listed as a shareholder of Ogletree Deakins, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

Adlong, a former NLRB agent, specializes in representing employers in traditional labor issues such as collective-bargaining negotiations, harassment and discrimination claims and more, according to his Ogletree Deakins profile.

Ogletree Deakins is one of the largest labor and employment law firms in the world, with a stable of over 1,000 attorneys across more than 50 offices in 30 states, Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, Mexico and Europe.

Adlong specializes in training “supervisors and managers regarding maintaining a union-free environment,” according to his online profile. In a March 24 open letter written by Evans, she said “I support organized labor, as does every member of the board — and we have no plans to block remaining or future staff from participating in a union.”

Photo courtesy of the Long Beach Post.

Evans did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

In a statement, the Guild denounced the nonprofit’s decision to hire the firm.

“Despite management stating that the LBJI financial situation was so dire that it required the layoffs of nine people, they have found the resources to hire costly specialists and lawyers to further push back against the staff’s unionization efforts,” the Long Beach Media Guild said in a statement. “This is not only more evidence of the union-busting that Guild members are striking against but not at all what donors and subscribers thought they were paying to support.”

John Logan, a labor and employment studies chair and professor at San Francisco State University, said there are only about half a dozen major law offices that specialize in anti-union practices. Logan said management is, of course, entitled to legal representation just as workers are, but added that Ogletree is “not an ordinary management-side law firm.”

“When you hire someone like Ogletree, it’s kind of like planting a flag saying ‘unions are not welcome here,’” Logan said in an interview Monday. “They have, over the decades, developed a very well-deserved reputation for playing hardball when it comes to trying to defeat union campaigns.”

Long Beach Media Guild members demand that the Long Beach Journalism rescind layoffs and allow the Guild a seat at the bargaining table at a rally on March 25, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson

Ogletree, along with other anti-labor firms such as Littler Mendelson, which has represented Starbucks in recent labor negotiations, has a long history of working against unions dating back to the 1960s and ’70s, Logan said.

Textile workers were the first to face off with these specialized lawyers, but over the years, these firms have followed work into whatever fields are experiencing waves of unionization efforts, he said, including auto and other manufacturing, nonprofits and more.

Logan said that such law offices often call themselves “union avoidance firms”, while union representatives refer to them as “union-busting firms.” The firms, of course, would say they are not advising employers to break the law, Logan said, but added that legal protections for unionizing under U.S. law are “so weak that employers don't need to violate the law, in most cases, in order to defeat a union campaign.”

“But it’s not as simple as that,” Logan said. “If you look at the Starbucks campaign, the number of alleged unlawful practices is eye-watering.”

Unionization efforts among LBJI staff began in early March as concerns over Evans’ leadership heightened. On March 8, workers mobilized and sent a letter to LBJI’s Board of Directors — Chair Matt Kinley, Treasurer Dora Jacildo and Secretary Gwen Shaffer — outlining instances of labor violations, gross mismanagement and other grievances.

Two days later, at a meeting with staff who signed the March 8 letter, workers were told that a human resources specialist would contact them and that any planned layoffs would be on hold until the investigation was complete.

LBJI hired Anne Laguzza of Long Beach-based The Works Consulting to conduct the H.R. investigation, Evans has confirmed. But to date, no workers have been interviewed or contacted by Laguzza, who was being paid $245 per hour, according to Evans.

Logan noted that firms like Ogletree are not required to disclose how much they are paid by companies they represent, but said the services are “extremely expensive,” with some lawyers charging more than $1,000 per hour.

On March 13, all 14 workers of the Post and Business Journal signed union authorization cards with Media Guild of the West and sent another letter to the board to request voluntary recognition of their newly formed unit, the Long Beach Media Guild.

Before an election date was set, Evans called a staff meeting on March 21 to tell workers the company’s financial situation was dire and layoffs were unavoidable. Despite an ongoing strike and an incomplete H.R. investigation, Evans called nine of the 14 Guild members the next morning to let them know their positions had been eliminated.

Three reporters who are still employed by LBJI have declined to return to work until management agrees to rescind the nine layoffs and negotiate alternative cost-cutting measures that would save jobs.

Evans says laying off 60% of the staff was necessary to save the newsroom, claiming she and the board “took every measure to avoid cutting jobs.”

Guild members say that leadership never sought workers’ input. A cost-cutting proposal provided to Evans and the board on March 22 included voluntary pay cuts of up to 20% and some positions shifting to part-time or contract work, according to the Guild.

A unionization vote for the Long Beach Media Guild is scheduled for Friday, April 5, during which all staffers, including those laid off, can vote.

The Long Beach Media Guild is protesting LBJI’s layoffs and management decisions on Wednesday, April 3, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Pacific Avenue and Broadway in Downtown Long Beach. The organization also is hosting a fundraiser Thursday, April 4 from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. at The Hawk (468 W Anaheim St.) to raise funds for those who lost their jobs and workers who remain on strike.

Brandon Richardson is a member of the Long Beach Media Guild and was among those laid off by the Long Beach Journalism Initiative.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct the date of the union election.