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Chinese Daily News Workers Face Second Vote on Unionization

In what could be a watershed battle over unionizing ethnic newspapers in the United States, employees of the Chinese Daily News are expected to vote next month for a second time on whether to join the largest U.S. media labor organization.


The referendum comes more than four years after the 150 employees of the Monterey Park-based Chinese Daily News voted 78-63 to join the Communications Workers of America and its member union, the Newspaper Guild.


However, the National Labor Relations Board ruled June 30 that the March 2001 election was tainted by pro-union campaigning by a supervisor at the newspaper, and it ordered a new election.


Union officials are vowing another vigorous campaign to bring the largely immigrant workforce into the Communications Workers, a campaign initially motivated by complaints about wages, hours and a lack of job protections.


The guild, which represents workers at El Diario in New York but no foreign-language papers in Southern California, is eyeing the ethnic press as a growth area, said Eric Geist, an assistant to guild President Linda Foley.


“From an organizational standpoint, this is an important campaign,” Geist said of the union drive at the Chinese Daily News. “These workers, many of whom were not born in the United States, are just looking for a voice in their workplace. This is one (workplace) we hope to organize and we hope it will lead to others.”


The CWA and the guild have suffered setbacks in California in recent years with a decision to eliminate the union at the San Diego Union-Tribune and a settlement in July with the San Francisco Chronicle in which the guild made several key concessions.


Lawyers for the Chinese Daily News also said the case has broader implications, contending that unions have stood in the way of technological progress when it eliminated jobs, such as a move by the paper to change from manual typesetters to computers.


“The issue people have with unions in the newspaper industry is pretty apparent when you consider what has happened in the newspaper industry nationwide,” said Steve Atkinson, a partner in the paper’s law firm of Atkinson Andelson Loya Rudd & Romo. He was referring to the overall decline in newspaper readership and advertising. “The unions have fought new technology and ways to make newspapers more efficient.”


With an unaudited circulation of 100,000, the Chinese Daily News is the largest Chinese language newspaper in the United States. It is published by Taiwan-based United Daily News, a holding company formed in 1951 by T.W. Wang.


The paper’s Monterey Park headquarters became a labor battleground in late 2000 with a handful of job cuts, a hard-line management approach on overtime, and a provision to eliminate job protections, according to Ben Yu, an advertising account executive and union organizer.


One of the paper’s mid-level supervisors, Ching Shan Lin, backed the union drive and encouraged employees to sign papers to form a union, according to the National Labor Relations Board’s account of the unionization campaign.


The involvement of Lin, who could not be reached for comment, became the central controversy in four years of NLRB consideration of management’s appeal of the election.


In their 2-1 June ruling, the NLRB concluded Lin’s involvement fatally tainted the election. Union organizers decried the decision, saying it threw out a decisive vote for the guild and that a new election might not turn out favorably because of management pressure and intimidation over the past four years.


Atkinson, however, said the harassment has gone the other way, with the Communications Workers filing one or two frivolous complaints with the NLRB per month and badgering workers to side with the union.


Whatever the outcome, the case is significant both to Asian-language media outlets and labor in general, said Kent Wong, director of UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education.


“The CWA has highlighted this case as an example of the failure of U.S. labor law to allow workers to organize,” he said. “It’s something that’s being watched very closely.”

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