Company: Outside sales, local news reporting could be outsourced

The Company said Wednesday it would not rule out outsourcing the reporting and editing of local news or outside advertising positions. In fact, no position would be safe from outsourcing.

The Times Union also would not provide any criteria for how layoffs would be determined, and its bargainers said the most senior employee could be laid off and a replacement hired two days later under its proposal.

It was a disturbing night at the bargaining table. Guild negotiators thought they had found a productive path for movement when the Company said at the last session that it would be unlikely to outsource every job in the newsroom.

The Guild then asked a simple question: OK, what positions in editorial would you not look to outsource? The Company could not answer. The union then extended that question to every department: What does the Company see as the core jobs it would not look to hand off to a contractor?

“We are not able to rule any position in or out,” said Mark Batten, one of the company’s two out of town corporate attorneys handling negotiations. The other, Peter Rahbar, was not present nor was Publisher George Hearst.

Guild President Tim O’Brien asked if that meant the reporting and editing of local news could be outsourced.

“I think that’s a possibility,” Battan said.

“Would the Company outsource outside advertising positions?” the union asked.

“It’s something that might be looked at,” Battan replied. “It’s certainly within the scope of our proposal.”

The Company has declined four advertising employees’ requests for a buyout. While the Company did so because it would otherwise have to replace those positions now, Battan said, the Company could decide later to outsource those jobs if the Times Union gets the language it is seeking.

Battan was no more forthcoming when asked detailed questions about the Company’s proposal on layoffs. The Times Union wants to be able to lay off anyone it chooses — and Battan said the Company will provide employees with no information on what criteria would be considered.

“It’s going to roll up from individual managers,” he said, adding the rules could vary from employee to employee.

Asked how an employee would know what to do to avoid being selected for layoff, Battan replied: “There is no definitive advice to give to employees.”

The Guild was joined at the table by International Representative Tim Schick, a past president of our local. He asked if under the company’s language it could lay off the most senior employee and then decide two days later to hire someone new for the same job.

“It could happen under the language we propose,”  Battan said.

The parties are next scheduled to meet from 5:30-8:30 p.m. May 13. Battan asked if the Guild would be able to meet sooner. O’Brien replied the union must work within the schedules of the bargaining team and the International representatives, who are currently  juggling multiple crises at various newspapers, but he said he would check on everyone’s availability.

At the session’s end, O’Brien expressed hope Battan would take the questions the union posed back to his bargaining colleague and Hearst. Getting answers on what core jobs would not be outsourced  would be helpful, he said.

Battan complained the Guild had not presented a new proposal, but O’Brien replied the union had moved as much as the Company. The union leader added, however, that unlike the Company, the Guild has not said it will not move and continues to explore to try to find avenues to an agreement.

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