Tim O’Brien here, blogging live from Washington, D.C.
I am down here with Ken Crowe for the annual Newspaper Guild sector conference. As you can imagine, it’s not a happy crowd. I sat through a meeting today where a panel discussed the awful givebacks that were demanded of them.
One of them was Michael Cabanatuan, president of the California Media Workers Guild. He leads the union at our fellow Hearst paper, The San Francisco Chronicle, you know the one George Hearst cited as giving up seniority rights when he demanded we do it too.
Michael, a great guy who has been through hell and still smiles, said that in 2005, the newspaper let the union see the books. The Chronicle was losing $52 million a year. It’s gotten worse. The newspaper said it was give back or the paper would close.
In Albany, George Hearst said the Times Union is still profitable. Got that? The Company thinks we should take the same hit as a paper that is losing more than $50 million a year. And, by the way, the Chronicle staff can still take grievances to arbitration.
I asked Michael and others at that session a lot of questions about handling layoffs. They had great advice about compassionate ways to help people cope. It’s been painful listening to their stories, and imagining what we’ll be facing next week, but I am so proud to be with these people. They are kind, giving of their time, dedicated to their colleagues and willing to put up with criticism from management and even sometimes their union members as they cope with the unimaginable pain some of these companies are inflicting, often in the most callous ways possible. (At one newspaper, they told everyone to stay home on a Monday morning and they would call to tell you whether to report to work.)
I’ve spent plenty of time too talking to Guild officials and the union’s attorneys, who are dealing with horrible situations day in and day out but are always generous with their time and advice.
You wouldn’t know about these wonderful folks from reading the news media, of course. That’s who employs them, and that’s who is cutting their jobs and benefits.