By Randy Shaw
Labor unions have had some tremendous successes in recent weeks, but you would never know this from the mainstream media. The Teamsters won bargaining rights for 7600 workers at Continental Airlines, which only rated a small non-bylined story in the Business Section of the New York Times and was ignored by other national media. UNITE HERE Local 11 is waging an inventive contract campaign against Disney that included several workers on a week long fast, a tent camp out, and candlelight vigil outside Disneyland — all providing good photo ops — yet media outside Southern California ignored these efforts. Even worse, the February 15 New York Times ran a story on Disney’s promotion at the Epcot Center in Florida of a “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day” charitable project. The contrasting Disney coverage is but one example of how the media has shifted its approach to labor activism so that such stories are treated as strictly local news. Yet news about corporations, as well as local shootings, fires or climate events, get national coverage.
One reason that I write so frequently about labor activism is that the mainstream media has largely abandoned this entire area of news. The past month alone has seen NUHW’s landmark victory at Kaiser, the Teamsters victory at Continental, solidarity between IBEW and UNITE HERE in rallies in Las Vegas, and between NUHW and UNITE HERE in Southern California protests, yet all only garnered local coverage.
The reasons are many. Few newspapers still have a regular labor reporter, with those like Phil Dine at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Steve Franklin at the Chicago Tribune now gone without being replaced. The Washington Post no longer has a reporter covering labor exclusively, nor the Boston Globe, nor the Detroit papers.
The rare stories that editors allow to go forward are increasingly assigned to business reporters, who lack the knowledge of labor issues and must tread carefully to avoid alienating the corporations they regularly cover.