Hearst: Times Union will lay off employees

Publisher George Hearst said Thursday the Times Union will soon announce a layoff of workers.

He declined to publicly discuss numbers or say when an announcement would be made, but said it was imminent. “A notification will be going out to employees in the early days ahead,” Hearst said at a contract negotiating session with the Guild.

Under the contract, the Company must give workers at least 45 days’ notice of layoffs so the union can talk to the Company about any steps if possible to alleviate the hardship. If shorter notice is given, the employees must be given 45 days’ pay. You can read the contractual language on layoffs here.

“We are aware of the economic troubles our nation is facing,” Guild President Tim O’Brien said. “We know the newspaper  industry is seeing more job cuts announced every day. While we do not favor layoffs, especially when our workers are already stretched thin, we will do our best to help our members through these difficult times.”

Employees who are designated for layoff have “bumping rights” to return to a previously held position. If a person is let go, they also must be placed on a rehiring list. Rehires are done on the basis of seniority in a job classification.

The Company has proposed changing the layoff language in a way that would render seniority rights useless. Currently, the language says layoffs are to occur in the reverse order of hiring. The Company wants to alter that language to make seniority “one of” the factors considered in a layoff. Hearst said at the table, however, that the Company does not want to consider seniority. It wants to pick and choose employees based on managers’ opinion of their “quality.”

Bargaining Committee member John DeMania noted that such opinions are arbitrary. “This month you are a superstar,” he said. “The next month, you’re in the doghouse.”

Guild bargainers noted any agreement would have to be approved by a membership vote, and it would be difficult to get members to approve language that makes everyone vulnerable to layoffs in the midst of a troubled economy.

“These issues are not negotiated in a vacuum,” O’Brien said. He noted the union had given the Company a serious proposal that removed many items its members considered important, and it offered major concessions as well.

But foremost on everyone’s minds was the impending layoffs. “As soon as we have information, we will share it with you,” O’Brien said. “We also intend to call a membership meeting to allow people to ask any questions they may have.”

16 thoughts on “Hearst: Times Union will lay off employees

  1. This is terrible news, though it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock.

    There’s an inherent problem in laying off workers solely based on seniority, even if I am a little biased as far as that goes. Some newer employees have skills that will be essential to the company’s survival as a news-gathering (if not necessarily newspaper-printing) entity.

    On the other hand, completely ignoring something codified in the contract ain’t right, either.

  2. As someone at the bottom of the seniority list who is about to lose his family’s sole source of income and his 18-month-old daughter’s health coverage, could somebody tell me if the union is bringing anything stronger to the table than a recommended unpaid week off for employees? Hearst is on the verge of shuttering two incredible papers and just seriously cut through at least two others, so it’s safe to say the company isn’t bluffing.
    It’s been two days and two sleepless nights since we were informed this is happening. Isn’t it time for a meeting?

  3. I know that this is a scary time but please give the bargaining committee a chance. We’ve had only one afternoon to discuss this situation with the company.

    Management’s goal is to reduce costs to bring them in line with revenues. THEIR first instinct was to cut jobs (about 75 plantwide, including managers and members of other unions).

    But that’s not the only way to realize savings. The furlough proposal is one alternative. There are over 400 people working at the TU. If each person took one unpaid week off that could be a substantial savings that could reduce the number of layoffs.

    Job sharing could be another option (it’s my understanding that the state has a program that will supplement part-time income with unemployment benefits for up to a year for people who would otherwise lose their jobs).

  4. Tim O’Brien here.I want to reply to the comments made by Scott Waldman here. I realize you’re scared about the layoff threat, Scott, and you have every right to be. But the Guild has not exactly been laying low here.

    The Company informed us of the layoffs Thursday, and I personally talked to you right afterward. We posted the news that night on the Web, and a flier went out the next day.

    On Friday, I was working at the TU but arranged to have the Guild’s office manager poll the Executive Board on its availability and check to see what night the large space in the Albany Labor Temple would be available for a membership meeting. It turned out Thursday is the only night. I signed on tonight (Saturday) to post that news, only to find your comment implying the Guild had done nothing for two days.

    As for the proposed concessions we gave the Company Thursday, remember that we learned of the layoffs that day. The package we gave the Company was put together BEFORE the Bargaining Committee was told about the impending layoffs, not after.

    We will have a membership meeting Thursday. I don’t know if we’ll have any more information then, but we certainly want to hear everyone’s thoughts and ideas.

    And if any of you can’t make it, please know there will be many more meetings in the days and weeks ahead. Our next Executive Board meeting, for example, is at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12, in our office on the second floor of the Albany Labor Temple. Those sessions are also open to the membership.

  5. Everyone at the TU knows how capricious, innaccurate and oftentimes vindictive management’s assessments can be. Do you want THEM determining who is “quality” and who goes? Seniority is really the only quantitatively fair way to do it; that’s why it’s in the contract. Think on this: If the company is so intent on violating a contract they already signed, do you think they’ll give fairness a consideration during layoffs? Do you want your job resting on the whim of a manager who doesn’t even know how to do your job?

  6. I’d hope my friends would recommend all sorts of cuts
    by the bosses, from reductions in pay and bonuses to the cancellation of the Fort Orange Club membership to getting rid of company cars. “They” will try to make the Guild out to be the bad guys here and suggest that the biggest problem of all is sensibly negotiated seniority/layoff language. Don’t buckle, folks.

  7. Brothers and sisters:

    I am writing to insist…actually, demand…that the contract be honored to the letter.

    I would imagine that the heavens would fall before the company would allow an advertiser or a contractor to ignore the provisions of a contract entered into in good faith. And rightfully so. So it is only reasonable to expect the same of them.

    A few months ago, the Guild voted to amend our health insurance plan in order to save the company money. This was done in midcontract; we did not have to do it. The plan we took on was NOT comparable to the existing plan, as called for in the contract, but we did it anyway in the interest of saving the company money. A number of our brothers and sisters were hurt by moving to this plan.

    And now, see the foul reward we reap. And to think that some people who have been paying out of pocket for medical expenses since the adoption of this plan are now subject to layoff and may never see the benefit the company promised of paying a portion of the deductible.

    After we help the company out in this way, they insist that we give up seniority rights that have been in this contract for more than 70 years. I think not.

  8. This is a scary time for not only our company, but also many others as well. The union has always worked very hard for us on many different issues. I feel very confident that whatever this outcome may be the union will make sure that they are doing everything they can to help us out. I’m a mother of 3 children, and am at risk for losing my job as well. It is very hard, and scary to have to sit back and wonder what may happen. All we can do is stick together at this point and be there for each other. I appreciate all the hard work Tim and the rest of the board has been doing, this is very hard and stressful for them as well.

  9. We appreciate everything Tim and the Guild are doing during these difficult times. We agree with the comments of Exempt Brother, who points out all the fat perks Management rewards themselves with. And Workerbee’s comments about the vindictive and capricious nature of managerial decisions are also very true. Remember the guild rep who was “written up” for not meeting her quota during negotiations? United we stand!

  10. In 1992, the Company’s management handed the Guild a layoff list as we entered negotiations for buyouts. It was an attempt to rattle us and turn us on each other. I know because I was the local president and received the list in a sealed envelope across the bargaining table.

    Ask Tim how we all felt at that time. He was involved then and is now the president in this situation. We’ve talked about that moment in the past. That’s when the seniority language allowed management to skip over people. They had one name and he was more upset about being skipped than being included.

    We stood together. There were buyouts and no layoffs.

    The one thing to remember is that our strength is in our support and encouragement of each other. In this instance, we must stand together behind our Executive Board and our Bargaining Committee.

    Mike’s comments about the health insurance and our decision to make a move that financially benefitted the company are on point completely.

    Right now, it’s hard to make any informed decisions without knowing what management is thinking and proposing. One thing I think we all believe is that the full force of what is coming should not fall solely upon us as Guild members. There should be ways to save jobs. We will have to think of them and have our representatives propose them.

  11. A few suggestions:

    1. Job sharing. Several people I know are interested in this, or in going part time. If 2, 3, 4 dozen people opted to go PT this would reduce their salary and their benefits and save the company money.

    2. Furlough: If cutting a week’s pay meant saving jobs, who wouldn’t be game?

    3. Watch your expenses: File every other week, instead of weekly; seek out cheaper parking if possible (when time isn’t on your heels), watch coffee and meal expenses with sources and/or go easy when out with them.

    4. Turn off the lights at night. You drive by and see the lights are all on well after employees leave. No one is in features after 6 or 7 and sports and other desks clear out by 2. Put all the lights in the building on timer and reduce the lighting at night.

    5. It’s small, but watch the copying. EVERY DAY there is a huge pile of print outs that are left untouched at every printer in the building. One piece is nothing, but the paper, the ink and the electricity add up.

  12. Holy good lord! I appreciate all that the guild does for us, too. They’re better people than I could ever be to do all this work. But can we stop all the back-patting and praise for a little while so we can figure out how to save as many jobs, livelihoods, mortgages, cars, marriages, sanities?

  13. Brothers and Sisters:
    I am very proud of the work our Guild negotiators have done for us. There is no way layoffs are fair under any process. They must be driven by financial considerations,not people or performance considerations. I remember the difficult times Brother Crowe recalls when the company tried to force layoffs. We stuck together then and we need to stick together now.
    Seniority language is in the contract to protect everyone from what otherwise would be an arbitrary system controlled by the company.
    I came to Albany from a small newspaper because I wanted to join a team of journalists who produced an outstanding news product. I was drawn to the higher pay and better working conditions guaranteed by the Guild contract.
    The Guild contract contains the rules we all have agreed to work under. The contract, and seniority, must be preserved.

  14. Dear “Employee:”

    I know this is a very stressful time for all of us. The union leadership is working very hard, and alternatives are being explored.

    This is not the time for divisive commentary. It is the time to pull together.

  15. Thanks to all who are thinking creatively about options that could help save money and jobs at the Times Union. There is no doubt that some of our finest employees are among those with the least seniority, and no one thinks it’s a good idea to lose even one.

    I share the worries expressed by others on this blog and am under no illusions about the serious problems facing traditional newspaper economics or about the rapid changes in technology we must accept as part of our business. Certainly it’s a time that is likely to call for flexibility, hard work and sacrifice from all of us, regardless of the length of our tenure at the TU.
    However:
    I ask that we please not allow a wedge to be driven between newer and older members by the company’s argument that seniority rules should be eliminated.
    There seem to be two false implications conveyed by the company’s argument.
    One is that employees who feel the seniority provisions in the contract are worth preserving are unsympathetic or unconcerned about the threat to our newer colleagues. We are not.
    The other message seems to be that more senior employees are too old-school and too technically incapable to help carry the Times Union into the next phase of the business.
    We are not. We care deeply about the future of this newspaper and want to be a part helping it survive and thrive again, just like our newer colleagues who bring so much talent and enthusiasm to their work.

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