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The Uprising

Staffers at the Chinese Daily News in Monterey Park, one of America’s largest Asian daily newspapers, are struggling to have their bosses accept their union vote.

The newspaper workers broke with cultural tradition and voted to unionize in late March, but management hasn‘t given up its six-month fight against the labor drive. There have been legal challenges and a visit from the CEO of the paper’s Taiwan-based corporate parent.

The 78-63 vote for representation by the Communication Workers of America (CWA) overcame a deeply ingrained pattern of deference to employers, said reporter Lynne Wang, a 13-year veteran at the paper.

Employee submission at the family-owned firm dissolved last fall in the face of job insecurity and pay cuts threatened by then-president Sharon Wang, aunt of corporate chief Duncan Wang. One of her innovations was to fund bonuses for the top performers in various departments out of reductions in pay for their co-workers. (Sharon Wang has since been replaced by Min Sheng Su, who formerly was at the helm of the paper‘s Northern California edition in San Francisco.)

Management’s pay policies felt unfair, said an ad staffer, when corporate income seemed to be climbing -- display-ad rates have risen 8 percent to 9 percent annually since 1996, and classifieds just jumped from $110 to $150 per unit. Employees were also told to sign declarations that they were ”at-will employees“ who could be fired without cause, breaking a traditional expectation of lifelong employment.

General manager David Liu said management has asked the National Labor Relations Board to set aside the vote and will not recognize the union or bargain with it. He alleged ”unfairness“ in the election, but would not elaborate. The CWA‘s Stephanie Moore said management contends that five employees who voted in the election are actually supervisors. Five votes, Moore said, wouldn’t have mattered in the 78-63 vote.

Duncan Wang, the company‘s Boston-schooled 30ish CEO (and grandson of its founder), hosted an employee dinner Monday night at the corporate offices in Monterey Park. Staff attendance was expected, with regrets not an option, said employees. Along with the Peking duck, Wang served up a 20-minute anti-union message, stressing the need for ”everyone to work together like a family,“ according to a member of the paper’s business staff. Conditions might not be ideal, Wang reportedly said, but third parties (unions) were not needed to sort things out. He gave attendees his e-mail address and asked rhetorically, Why, at a Chinese paper, would we need to get Americans involved? (More than 95 percent of employees are immigrants, most of them hired in the last decade, staffers say.)

The company also publishes an East Coast edition (called World Journal) in New York, where advertising-sales employees voted in late March to unionize. They were prompted in part by a cut in sales commission from 15 percent to 10 percent, imposed without any discussion with sales staff, says one account exec. The parent corporation‘s flagship is United Daily News of Taipei, the island nation’s largest paper.

Unions have recently gained ground in foreign-language newspapers and broadcast media, including several outlets of Spanish-TV giant Univision. The merger of the Newspaper Guild and the broadcasting union NABET into the CWA brought new energy to organizing drives.

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