This is a sad but instructive story of a billionaire, Joe Ricketts, who closed down his two popular news websites out of spite. He was angry because his workers voted to unionize.

Maybe it meant that his staff would be paid more. But the owner could afford it. He was angry because he didn’t want a union. Period.

Hamilton Nolan explains what happened:

“Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, is worth more than $2 billion. He is the owner of DNAinfo, a local news site that covered New York City and Chicago with unparalleled skill, as well as Gothamist, a network of city-oriented websites that DNAinfo bought this year. He is also a major right-wing political donor of rather flexible morality. During the last presidential primaries, Mr. Ricketts spent millions of dollars funding ads that portrayed Donald Trump as an untrustworthy, dangerous misogynist. Once Mr. Trump secured the nomination, Mr. Ricketts spent a million dollars to support him.

“One might think that such flexibility would allow Mr. Ricketts to bend but not break when faced with every plutocrat’s worst nightmare: a few dozen modestly paid employees who collectively bargain for better working conditions.

“Alas, no.

“Six months ago, reporters and editors at DNAinfo-Gothamist announced their intent to join the Writers Guild of America, East. This is the union that my colleagues and I at Gawker Media joined in 2015, and the union that has organized major online media companies like HuffPost, Vice Media, Slate and Thrillist in the past two years. In that short amount of time, unionized “new media” workers have won substantial raises, editorial protections and other improvements that writers at more mature companies take for granted. In defiance of the conventional wisdom that unions are outdated, this young, high-tech industry has been one of the most visible recent successes for organized labor in America.

“The DNAinfo-Gothamist announcement sparked a zealous anti-union campaign: Management threatened employees by saying that Joe Ricketts might shut the whole place down if it unionized. Nevertheless, employees last week voted 25-2 in favor of unionization. And on Thursday, Mr. Ricketts abruptly shut the whole place down…”

Ricketts did not try to sell his news sites.

“Instead of bargaining with 27 unionized employees in New York City, he chose to lay off 115 people across America. And, as a final thumb in the eye, he initially pulled the entire site’s archives down (they are now back up), so his newly unemployed workers lost access to their published work. Then, presumably, he went to bed in his $29 million apartment…

“Labor unions have done more for the average American than all the rich industrialists put together. Unions are a legal right and the single most powerful tool that regular working people have to improve their lot. DNAinfo and Gothamist employees, who did the fundamentally important work of telling us all what is happening in our cities, were punished for exercising their rights.

“The business of journalism has always been fickle and grim. It is an industry full of idealist workers scrambling to cobble together a living at publications owned by a shifting group of cutthroat capitalists and incompetent rich dilettantes. The careers of most journalists feature constant uncertainty and heartbreak, interspersed with periods of life-affirming work that you hope make it all worthwhile. That uncertainty is why The Los Angeles Times, whose owners have been famously anti-union for more than 100 years, is now in the midst of its own union organizing campaign.

“The union movement in media is incredibly important beyond what it means to hundreds of employees at more than a dozen sites. Digital media workers have unionized because they understand how they are being exploited at work, and how to fix it. The visibility of their union campaigns can serve as an example to workers in other job sectors, where organized labor has grown nearly invisible, to the detriment of all.

“Just as the newspaper industry unionized in the 1930s to balance out the outlandish power of the publishers, so too will the online news industry unionize whether the bosses like it or not. Mr. Ricketts and other publishers will continue to fight back, framing their opposition to unions as an informed business decision. But it is an ideological one.“