Tozen Union and its Japan Times General Workers Union (JTGWU) chapter took strike action Wednesday as the paper threatened to lay off 39 staff, one third of the company’s workforce.
Negotiations had broken down after management failed to justify the necessity of the layoffs.
JTGWU fears the cuts will make The Japan Times unable to function as a news organization. Such irreparable damage to the 123-year-old institution would come at a time when its coverage, including that of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, is more important than ever.
These cuts follow a voluntary redundancy program in spring 2020 that significantly reduced the newspaper’s workforce. JTGWU has 16 members, representing staff from across The Japan Times. The union set a July 17 deadline and implored The Japan Times’ management to postpone the layoffs for a month to give both parties enough time to negotiate. Management refused, preferring instead to rush through the mass layoff.
Gerome Rothman, Tozen organizer and the local’s case officer, said, “We’re shocked. The Japan Times and Tozen Union have a history of excellent labor relations.
“In Japan, an employer has the responsibility to do everything in its power to avoid even one layoff. Instead, The Japan Times has chosen to violate social norms, unilaterally deciding to turn a third of the company out into the street in the middle of a pandemic.”
Chris Russell, president of JTGWU, said, “Every member of the local is dedicated to the long-term success of The Japan Times. We believe that this success is, and will continue to be, driven by the company’s talented staff. It’s a major disappointment that the company doesn’t feel the same basic commitment to its employees, particularly given the excellent COVID-19 coverage everyone has produced in the past half year.”
Jane Kitagawa, an editor and writer, said, “Union members are upset that they have been forced into this position. They think the company has made a terrible decision to implement layoffs that are not in the best interests of the company, its readership or its staff.”
Japan Times General Workers Union case officer