Union Group Tries To Bully ‘LA Times’ Into Burying Racist Remarks

Racist remarks and intimidation attempts from Los Angeles leaders and labor officials. A major Los Angeles labor federation threatened the Los Angeles Times over a story about offensive remarks made by Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez in a conversation with Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera.

During the October 2021 conversation—a recording of which was recently leaked—Martinez referred to Council member Mike Bonin (who is white) as a “little bitch,” and said his son (who is black) was “parece changuito—like a monkey—who needs to be beaten. “They’re raising him like a little white kid,” Martinez said. “I was like, this kid needs a beatdown. Let me take him around the corner and then I’ll bring him back.”

“Later in the conversation, the group talked about how Koreatown — a largely Latino neighborhood — should be handled in redistricting,” noted the Times in an article published Sunday:

The group then questioned whether Shatto Place, a small street, and Lafayette Park are in Koreatown. “I see a lot of little short dark people,” Martinez said of that section of Koreatown, employing stereotypes long used against Oaxacans in Mexico and in the United States. “I was like, I don’t know where these people are from, I don’t know what village they came [from]how they got here,” Martinez said, before adding “Tan feos— “They’re ugly.”

In the Times article, Martinez, de León, and Herrera each apologized, and Cedillo said he didn’t recall the conversation.

Martinez resigned workers from the City Council, Herrera resigned as president of the labor federation—a group representing 800,000 belonging to 300 unions.

“Racism in any form has no place in the House of Labor,” interim federation President Thom Davis said in a statement Tuesday. “It is unconscionable that those elected to fight for our communities of color would engage in repuls and vile anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Asian and anti-Oaxacan remarks that pit our communities working against each other. These sentiments will not be tolerated by our organization or those who we represent.”

This is a good response. But it wasn’t the federation’s first response. Prior to the Times story coming out, a lawyer for the labor federation tried to bully the Times into not publishing it. In an early Sunday email to Los Angeles Times editors, lawyer Julie Gutman Dickinson described the leaked conversation as “an illegal recording” that was made “in violation of California’s privacy and recording laws.”

“If the LA Times publishes this illegal recording, or information contained in it, it is condoning this conduct and subjecting itself to legal liability,” wrote Dickinson. “It is imperative for this reason, and to avoid harm to innocent people, that the LA Times refrains from publishing anything from the illegal recording.”

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor should probably get itself new counsel. If the recording was made illegally, any criminality accrues to the person who made the recording; the Los Angeles Times is not breaking any laws by reporting on it. And aside from being a dubious legal strategy, the threat is also a bad PR strategy. The union could have simply condemned Martinez’s remarks and insisted that it does not condone them. Instead, it tried to intimidate a newspaper into burying the story.

In a letter to the union, Los Angeles Times General Counsel Jeff Glasser wrote that its response was “contrary to the United States and California Supreme Court constitutional law, which recognizes that the First Amendment fully protects news reports on illegally intercepted recordings about matters of public concern.”

Citing a number of relevant cases, Glasser concluded that “the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor could not constitutionally hold liable LA Times or its advertising for publishing a recording of three LA City Council members and a county labor official making pejorative references to fellow City Council members.”


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