Promotions carry a new potential risk

Accepting a promotion can put an employee at greater risk of layoffs.

That was the stunning news embedded in the decision to let go three employees last week in the advertising art/marketing subdepartment. The company said it chose to let go people in the title of marketing media specialist, a Class B title formerly called specialty publications editor. The layoffs were done in reverse order of seniority by job title, the company said.

One of the laid-off employees worked for the company for 12 years but was promoted 2 1/2 years ago from an advertising artist’s job. Accepting that promotion, it turned out, made him more vulnerable to a layoff because there were only four people in the marketing title and three were let go.

When the company posted conditions in 2009, it eliminated language that would have allowed employees targeted for layoff to bump back into a previously held position. Without that language, the 12-year worker could not seek to return to his prior position.

Guild leaders said they were upset at the timing of the company’s decision, laying off people in the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

While the Times Union did offer buyouts in November, it had not specified which titles in ad art/marketing were being targeted. Had the company done so, as it did with district managers, it might have prompted some workers to apply for the buyout.

The Guild calculated, however, that all three workers are receiving a better payout because they waited for the layoff. That’s because they worked more than a month longer, and because a layoff requires the company to provide either nine weeks’ notice or nine weeks’ pay in lieu of notice. For two of the three workers, that 9 weeks’ pay added up to more than the additional week pay for year of service that was included in the buyout.

For the third worker, the buyout would have given 36 weeks’ pay. A layoff will provide 24 weeks’ pay plus the nine weeks of notice pay. While that is three weeks less than the buyout offer, the employee kept his job for more than a month by not accepting the buyout.

“It pains us greatly to see our colleagues laid off, and we think the company will find that this cut is too deep and there are not enough people to do the work,” Guild President Tim O’Brien said. “But even in the worst of times, there is a benefit to having a union. In a non-union workplace, there would be no buyout offers, no guarantee of severance and no 9 weeks’ pay in lieu of notice.”

The Times Union managers said it was likely the newspaper would create fewer specialty publications now. If advertising artists are made to do that work more than 15 hours in a week or more than two full days, they will be entitled to a pay class differential. If the company tries to outsource the work, it would have to be negotiated.

The Times Union is offering to provide health insurance to the laid-off workers for the same number of weeks they would be paid. Guild leaders also said they appreciated the fact the workers were allowed to finish their day and not made to leave the premises immediately, as happened in the 2009 layoffs.

The Guild also asked what the company planned to do with positions on the Web desk. No employees there had applied for buyouts either, though the company again had not been specific about any targeted job titles.

Publisher George Hearst said no final decision has been made on the Web team because a companywide reconfiguration is being developed. O’Brien pointed out that if the Times Union planned to outsource that work to another Hearst operation, that would have to be negotiated.

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