Village Voice Union In for a Fight

Village Voice staffers could go on strike by the end of the week if they can’t reach a contract agreement by June 30.  Contrary to the union press release on the matter, however, the Voice is not the only unionized paper in the VVM chain. The LA Weekly is unionized as well, although its ranks have been gutted by layoffs.

We spoke with former LA Weekly shop steward Steven Mikulan about the situation at the Voice, who gave us his thoughts on the back story of the strike. Mikulan helped negotiate the LA Weekly union’s last contract with VVM back in 2009.

Neither the L.A. Weekly nor the Voice‘s union locals have the right to strike — until after their contracts expire and there’s no sign of a new collective bargaining agreement. (Likewise, management can’t lock out the union — until the contract expires, etc.) That’s the way most contracts are — to walk out while a contract’s in force is to engage in a wildcat strike.

If I recall, the Voice’s union membership has taken strike votes near the end of their contracts for at least the last three negotiations. That’s not unusual — the Weekly’s union members, when they voted on their last contract, in 2009, had also simultaneously authorized a strike in the event the contract wasn’t approved. That didn’t mean there would automatically have been a strike if the contract proposal had been voted down — it just allowed the negotiators (Mitch Handsone and myself) to return to the bargaining table with the authority to raise the possibility of a strike. And contracts don’t necessarily end with their expiration dates — they are often extended by mutual agreement during the course of negotiations.

It’s not surprising that medical benefits are at the heart of the holdup. In 2008 the Voice’s union dodged the bullet of having to contribute to its health care plans, probably because the ownership changeover had just happened and the new, highly unpopular owners had a lot more to worry about than getting bogged down in contract talks.

What happens with the Voice could potentially be a harbinger of things to come with the Weekly.