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Long Beach Post faces federal investigation into retaliation amid union vote

Before unionizing, workers tried to warn the nonprofit’s board of directors of several workplace violations, but their concerns were ignored.

Long Beach Post faces federal investigation into retaliation amid union vote
Former and striking employees of the Long Beach Journalism Initiative picket the organization in Downtown Wednesday, April 3, 2024 following mass layoffs. Photo by Brandon Richardson

The National Labor Relations Board is investigating the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal over allegations of retaliation following a worker-led union campaign and the subsequent layoff of nine staff members.

Employees voted April 5 in favor of unionizing, after more than a dozen workers had signed union authorization cards and a letter to the leadership of the Post’s parent nonprofit, the Long Beach Journalism Initiative, requesting voluntary recognition of the Long Beach Media Guild, a unit of Media Guild of the West (TNG-CWA 39213). The Guild filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB after the layoffs.

“We formed a union because we want to provide what this city deserves — local news,” said Jason Ruiz, a reporter on strike from the Post and the LBMG’s spokesperson. “What management has done is a disservice to that mission.”

Before they unionized, workers tried to warn the LBJI’s Board of Directors that they had been coerced into working for free for two weeks in November by Chief Executive Melissa Evans, and that staffers believed they had been intentionally misclassified as exempt workers so that the employer could avoid paying for overtime work.

“Several people talked to Melissa about these violations and her response was ‘these people should feel lucky they have jobs,’” Ruiz said “She had several opportunities to not break the law, but she did anyway and asked management to conceal it for her.”

The Long Beach Media Guild marches with Communications Workers of America, Writers Guild of America, The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and Democratic Socialists of America in Downtown Long Beach on Friday, April 12. Photo by Brandon Richardson

The workers also raised concerns about Evans’ intent to lay off seven people which would be carried out not even six months after two initial rounds of layoffs and four months after the Post and Business Journal transitioned to nonprofit status.

In a meeting with LBJI directors March 10, workers were told their allegations would be investigated and that no layoffs would take place until the investigation was complete.

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On March 13, 14 workers informed the board that they had decided to form a union.

A week later, LBJI moved forward with the layoffs, ultimately laying off two more people than planned. The company also hired an attorney from well-known union-busting law firm Ogletree Deakins.

“In numerous interviews, Melissa claimed she and the board are supportive of unions, but at every turn their actions have proved otherwise,” said Brandon Richardson, a laid-off reporter and visuals editor. “At any time, they could have voluntarily recognized our union and negotiated with us, rather than forcing an election, which is the bare minimum required by law.”

Staff members also allege Evans has a history of making anti-union comments at work.

“I’ve heard her make ‘jokes’ in the newsroom about firing my colleagues — and in a few instances, those ‘jokes’ were aimed at those who had made comments about unionizing the newsroom,” said Kat Schuster, former Post and Business Journal editor. “Now I know she wasn't joking.”

On March 21, Evans announced her decision to move forward with layoffs, prompting workers to walk out immediately. Evans made phone calls the next morning to notify the nine workers of their layoff.

Former and striking employees of the Long Beach Journalism Initiative were joined on the picket line by community and other union members in Downtown Friday, April 12, 2024 following mass layoffs. Photo by Brandon Richardson

Three remaining reporters and a California Local News reporting fellow are on strike amid the ULP investigation. The Post is now largely relying on wire services for content, with limited staff reporting by managing editor Jeremiah Dobruck and Evans, the CEO.

Evans, in an interview with Cal State Long Beach’s Daily Forty-Niner after the layoffs, disputed the workers’ wage theft allegations, but admitted to asking workers to “volunteer.” Evans had previously admitted to staff that the “volunteer” hours of unpaid work had been “a labor violation — we could be sued.”

“When I raised the issue with management back in November, my concerns were met with raised voices and a highly emotional response that made me extremely uncomfortable,” Schuster said. “Melissa told me that whoever chose not to work wouldn’t have a job anymore. Jeremiah told me that my concerns of the Post being named in a labor lawsuit later were illegitimate and wrote me off as being paranoid.”

After the layoffs, workers urged the community not to read the Post, launched a newsletter to continue publishing local journalism, and began a GoFundMe to support laid-off and striking Post and Business Journal staff. It has raised more than $12,000.

A fundraiser at the Hawk bar the night before the union vote raised about $1,500 through food and bar sales and an opportunity drawing. Local businesses including Gemmae Bake Shop, Catalyst, Wood Coffee Co. Fingerprints Music, the Wicked Wolf, Altar Society and others donated gift cards, shopping experiences and other goods in a heartening outpouring of support from community members.

A week after conducting layoffs, Evans, Dobruck and LBJI directors Matt Kinley, Gwen Shaffer, and Dora Jacildo offered to resign and hand over the nonprofit to workers.

Long Beach Media Guild members were seriously weighing the proposal, and asked for more information about the nonprofit’s financial situation to fully consider the offer. LBJI management provided some information the evening of April 2, but suddenly, without waiting for another response from the Guild, withdrew its offer around 11:30 the next morning, April 3.

“We’re frustrated by the way LBJI leadership made this offer but then would not engage in good-faith talks on it,” Ruiz said. “But we’re still hopeful about resolving this somehow, and, most important, getting back to everyone’s first priority: serving Long Beach.”

Long Beach deserves better. You can support local journalism and Guild members by sending a letter to tell Post leadership to rescind the layoffs, and by donating to the Guild relief fund.

Editor’s note: This headline has been updated to clarify it is not the management that is under investigation; rather, the organization is under federal investigation due to management’s actions.


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