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.”