OLD Media Moves

Falling down on the job on labor coverage

January 15, 2006

That’s the headline this morning in the Los Angeles Times’ opinion piece by Peter Dreier, a professor of politics and director of the urban and environmental policy program at Occidental College. The colum is in response to the Times’ four-part series earlier this week on the United Farm Workers that was highly critical of the union and has met with some criticism by the union and other groups.

In his opinion piece, Dreier writes: “You can usually count on The Times to cover unions when they strike. When several major unions recently bolted from the AFL-CIO to form an alternative labor group, the newspaper ran several stories about internal union disputes that led to the rupture and the possible consequences for the labor movement. Two years ago, The Times’ series on Wal-Mart’s treatment of its workers and worldwide business operations won several top journalism prizes.

“But you’ll search the paper in vain for similar coverage of the following labor issues:

“• Where was The Times’ expose on the federal government’s failure to regularly inspect mines and enforce mine-safety laws before the recent tragedy at the Sago mine in West Virginia?

“• Where was the Page 1 takeout on the federal government’s devastating budget cutbacks for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (the major workplace health and safety agency)? On the Department of Labor’s failure to adequately enforce wage-and-hour laws? Or on the current National Labor Relations Board, which lets companies that routinely violate labor laws and workers’ rights off the hook, thwarting union organizing?

“• Why aren’t reporters regularly writing stories on the exploitative working conditions in the region’s garment sweatshops, many of which operate within blocks of the paper’s downtown offices? Shouldn’t there be frequent stories on whether state and federal agencies are regularly inspecting these sweatshops and punishing employers who pay their workers less than the minimum wage or force them to work overtime without pay?

“• Why doesn’t The Times regularly cover the exciting efforts of such unions as Unite Here, the Service Employees International Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the California Nurses Assn. to organize hotel workers, janitors, security guards, grocery workers, nurses and other healthcare employees? And what about the work of such watchdog and advocacy groups as Sweatshop Watch and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in L.A.?”

I applaud the Times for running Dreier’s opinion piece, which is obviously highly critical of the paper’s coverage of labor issues based on the snippet above. But Dreier’s criticisms can be levied against virtually all mainstream media publications. The business journalism world simply does not do a good enough job when it comes to covering labor.

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