Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sacramento Bee management warns: "mass layoffs" a possiblity beginning in March

The union representing 268 of the Sacramento Bee's 1,126 full- and part-time staffers was told by Bee that if the Guild rejects an upcoming cost-cutting proposal from the Bee, drastic measures including "mass layoffs" beginning in March are a serious possibility. Here is the union's account of what transpired at the meeting.

Sacramento Bee employees should expect a serious wave of layoffs in early March, as well as other cost-cutting measures now being considered, including wage cuts and mandatory furloughs as McClatchy Newspapers’ financial crisis worsens, company representatives told the Guild’s bargaining committee in a 90-minute session Wednesday.

The company said all options are being considered, but that layoffs would occur in quantities to trigger a federal WARN Act notification by The Sacramento Bee – required when a company does mass layoffs.

(More information on WARN: www.doleta.gov/programs/factsht/warn.htm)

“We need to reduce very quickly,” said The Bee’s Human Resources Director, Linda Brooks. “I don’t want to lead anyone astray. That number is going to be big.”

She provided no specific numbers, no financial target, no dollar figure. Brooks said in an on-the-record bargaining session that the company is still working on all manner of ways to cut costs, from fewer pages to fewer employees.

Mandatory furloughs are being considered possibly for the second quarter of 2009. And wage cuts being considered run from the publisher on down, the company said.

“The newspaper industry is in a depression and this company is part of it,” said company attorney Bob Ford. He said all of McClatchy’s newspapers are making similar plans to cut costs as the firm’s revenue picture deteriorates faster than projected even weeks ago. He said the layoffs would be on a scale exceeding anything before seen at the Sacramento operation.

The company said nothing is likely to happen before Friday, Feb. 27. The company and the Guild, which represents 268 of The Bee’s 1,126 full- and part-time staffers, have scheduled a session at which The Bee will formally propose cost-cutting measures. Our bargaining committee was told in no uncertain terms that our rejection of any or all of those measures – such as potential wage cuts or furloughs – would lead only to more layoffs.

Company representatives said layoffs under the WARN Act provisions will come with the following provisions:

- 60 days of continued employment following the layoff notification. Medical coverage continues.


- Accumulation of severance pay, two weeks per year of service to a maximum of 40 weeks.


- Accrued vacation continues during the 60-day period. Medical benefits would continue for three additional months after layoff under COBRA, and possibly longer, said Brooks.


- The company will also bring in EAP counselors and financial advisers to help laid-off staffers plan a strategy. It will also offer people use of company computers to apply to the Employment Development Department. Others will be brought in to help people through the process of applying for state jobs.

Brooks said criteria to determine layoffs consists of three things, and that preliminary planning has already been done. Criteria include skills, performance and tenure. In the case of a tie breaker, tenure wins.

Prized newsroom skills, said Brooks, include expertise in investigative reporting, databases, mapping tools and freedom of information requests.

McClatchy Newspapers had previously announced that it intends to trim $100 million to $110 million in costs soon. Former VP for News, Howard Weaver, said just weeks ago that all the chain’s newspapers are making money. But the company is carrying approximately $2 billion in debt from its 2006 acquisition of the Knight Ridder chain and earnings are falling.

Bee Guild President Ed Fletcher was told that the company will consider offering voluntary buyouts if it gets names very soon of volunteers. Bob Ford offered no guarantees on that front, but acknowledged that it could be helpful in reducing the numbers of layoffs.

“We don’t need a feel for it,” he said. “We need names.”

Brooks said that people who ask for buyouts will not be targeted for layoffs, having indicated their interest.

Fletcher, and bargaining committee members Cindy Taylor of advertising, and Walt Yost and Jim Wasserman of editorial, asked numerous questions to pin down more details. Guild representatives Linda Frediani and Wendy Mejia also participated. We were told that each 1 percent wage cut among bargaining unit members would save approximately $140,000 to $160,000 – approximately three jobs. The paper is also exploring ways to use fewer print pages – each fewer page printed daily saving about $52,000 a year. We asked about voluntary furloughs and expressed the willingness of our members to take them. Those are in the mix, we were told. It takes approximately 52 people taking one week off per year to save one job.

In short, this session was grim. It has come to this after a long, gradually-building slump in the housing sector and larger economy.

This session was scheduled to discuss the continuing question of a pension freeze. That fell to the sidelines. We were once again told very bluntly that the company believes it has the legal power to freeze pensions and that any expenses it has to pay if the Guild challenges it on the question will result in more layoffs. That freeze is scheduled to take effect March 31, but remains on the bargaining table.

To summarize, it appears, unfortunately, that a business many of us love, a newspaper that many of us have spent years climbing toward, is caught up very badly in America's economic crisis. We are being told to prepare for an extraordinary and painful journey in coming weeks. The company has promised to send us details as they have them. We promise to do the same.


UPDATE: It's legit -- the memo was cross-posted at the Guild's web site.
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46 comments:

Anonymous said...

Criteria includes "skills, performance and tenure", tie breaker tenure wins.

Oh boy we get to keep the same "good o boy" structure. It's the peons again that get cut.

Anonymous said...

Posted Wednesday to the local Newspaper Guild's website, this ominous announcement that would appear to corroborate the memo, although the memo is not contained here:

http://www.beeguildnow.org/?p=137
Ed & Walt have bad news to deliver from today’s bargaining session. We’ll answer as many questions as we can at 3:30 today on the 2nd floor landing of the Bee. Yes, in 20 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Good Job Kevin getting this posted.

Anonymous said...

Pension funding gap looms as another newspaper problem


McClatchy hasn’t specified the level of its funding gap, so we need to await the 10K report for the real numbers.

But at the end of 2007, McClatchy reported pension obligations of $1.55 billion, and plan assets of $1.38 billion, for an underfunded status of $172 million.

Assuming an assets decline of 20 percent, that underfunding will have risen to $448 million at the end of 2008, which could require funding of about $65 million starting next year.

That would be 18 percent of 2008 cash flow, and could become as much as 25% with a little more erosion in ad revenue.

So it’s no wonder McClatchy clamped a benefits freeze on its pension plan as of the end of March.

LINK:http://www.niemanlab.org/2009/02/pension-funding-gap-looms-as-another-newspaper-problem/

Anonymous said...

Is this "WARN" notification for all the newspapers or just the Sacramento Bee? In other words what name went with the notification?

Anonymous said...

McClatchy declares war on its employees, using the Vietnam strategy: Boy Blunder Gary Pruitt had to destroy the village to save it.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you'll be lucky at the Bee. Guild letter states severance pay 2 weeks per year of service up to 40 weeks of pay. Wow! Take the money and run. Lucky. Not that generous at other papers.

Anonymous said...

The MNI brass must hate sessions with the Guild. They can't control the information output, and horror of horrors, the employees might learn something.

Anonymous said...

This is good information even as the source is being tracked down. It forces the Bee to level with its employees, or face rumor after rumor. Of course they could have been upfront in the first place, but then, that would be honest, no one is accusing the Bee of ‘Beeing’ honest.

Anonymous said...

I bet you don't read this in the paper. Where's that guy yesterday that claimed you can't get local information on a blog?

Anonymous said...

40 Weeks of severance pay!!! Way to go Guild.

40 more weeks of misery for McClatchy. Can't pay 2B debt down that way.

Anonymous said...

Today Gary P. addressese the corporate employees in the annual "state of the union" speech. That oughta be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Who goes there?
The LA Times announced a staff reduction 300. So far there have been 163 layoffs. This is how the numbers look just a bit more than half way done. This might be an idea of future layoff positions for other papers.

75 editorial employees
63 pressmen
11 machinists at Olympic
4 electro-techs Orange County
4 machinists Orange County
3 electro-techs from Olympic
2 pressroom supervisors
1 pressroom clerk from Olympic

coachbill said...

One important note regarding the severance package: The language probably will read two weeks of base pay for every year of "continuous" service, continuous being the key word.

For example, if you have 13 total years with the company but only three continuous years because of a job with another company, you won't receive 26 weeks of base pay, you'll get the minimum 10 weeks.

Anonymous said...

Continuous is a VERY important work and really messed up my pension. Also they look at "pensionable hours worked". If you were off for illness etc. that will count against your pension although were continually employed the pensionable hours will be totaled and you may (like some at the Modesto Bee) miss a pension "mile stone" like 20 years by just a few weeks. That really sucks! That could be the difference of an extra $300.00 a month or more!
The weasels know what they are doing.

Anonymous said...

Our paper is already under the WARN act from outsourcing our press. The WARN act only applies to the Bee if they fall under it. Don't think for a minute that these layoffs only apply to the Bee, however. I'm sure every paper at McClatchy will be doing the exact same thing in the next week or two.

Anonymous said...

The Bee's guild site is incredibly bad for a newspaper guild site. They post a hint of bad news and never follow up with the bed news, leaving everybody hanging. Traffic must be tiny on this site as comments are infrequent too. They should really improve the site to keep members informed.

Anonymous said...

8:30 I don't know what paper your at but at the Star you can't find hardly anybody that wouldn't be continuous. I'll also tell you that nobody has received MORE THAN 26 WEEKS NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU HAVE WORKED THERE.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if any of the papers are contesting unemployment claims to laid off workers who did not get a buy out or severence package?

Anonymous said...

Now that the Guild has spilled the beans I wonder if McClatchy will have anything to say about this.

Flood Gary's email with this. Anybody know for sure his email? I bet they won't because they fear of losing their jobs.

Anonymous said...

It read to me like there would be mass layoffs in Sac whether the guild made concessions or not. The cuts sound massive one way or the other. The guild is helpless because the situation is so dire.

Anonymous said...

10:04 Just how many papers are union now? I know the CA papers are but are there any others.

Anonymous said...

Maybe their just doing mostly the Guild papers because that's where the major cost are. I think that is a major reason that they didn't keep a lot of the KR papers.

Anonymous said...

I know at the KC Star that most of the jobs at the print plant were once union. They got rid of the union but the union salaries are still there. Besides some of the reporters they have the biggest salaries at the Star. The print plant also has not taken the cuts that all the other departments have. Sorry to say, this may be their time.

Anonymous said...

Please with the "Blue Print for Success" can we just get this over with. You have the plan save the crap your dishing out for the next two weeks.

Newsance said...

The Wonder Boy Pruitt (We once wondered, but now are certain)will make a speech!

"In order to preserve the McClatchy family of newspapers, effective immediately, I will return all remuneration I received since I took over!" (He won't)

What we are more likely to expect, in an infusion of money from the DNC to pay for all the free advertising they get.

Anonymous said...

I know at the KC Star that most of the jobs at the print plant were once union. They got rid of the union but the union salaries are still there.
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They sure are. At the exact same level that they were in 1976.

Anonymous said...

McClatchy said that nothing would happen before Feb.27. They had to put something out to stop the bleed in the stock market until they got their crap done.

Anonymous said...

11:03 Your full of crap. Post your lies elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

11:03 Liar, Liar, Liar.

If you worked for the "exact same level" of pay since 1976 YOUR AN IDIOT. The same as your post reflects. Idiot.

Anonymous said...

Not a lie. Look at what those guys were making before the union was busted and what they make now. Nice try dopes, but they got rid of the craftsman and hired the scabs for next to nothing with little to no benefit. You people work for almost exactly the same as they did then. I know you don't like it, but it is the truth.

Anonymous said...

"The print plant also has not taken the cuts that all the other departments have. Sorry to say, this may be their time."

Not correct, the print plant was taking cuts long before anyone else. Everyone else is now having their turn.
Think there is only about half dozen union employes at the Star now.

Anonymous said...

Ah those were the days. 35 hour work week. Anything over 7 hours per day was overtime. Sub list that let you hire your own replacements, job shops all over town that paid union scale. Family life insurance, full coverage, zero deductible. Fantastic pension amounted to half your pay for life, and then came the Capital Cities union busters.

Anonymous said...

12:06 and 12:16. Another idiot from the KC Star. They work at that "white elephant" that they paid for twice. Produce something that nobody wants. Now that "White Elephant" is for sale and nobody wants it. Then they post this cry baby stuff that they work for 1976 wages. This is the same poop that the Star produces.

If you work for 1976 wages you are a loser that NOBODY else wants. Sell your poop elsewhere nobody believes you here.

Newsance said...

One of the Anonymous posters here who is calling folks liars, is so lacking in language skills, he or she doesn't know the difference between "your" and "you're!"

Anonymous said...

McClatchy said that nothing would happen before Feb.27. They had to put something out to stop the bleed in the stock market until they got their crap done.

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Where did MNI say nothing would happen before Feb. 27??

Anonymous said...

Try the Sacramento Union

Anonymous said...

12:21 Came from the poop plant sorry. What do you expect from somebody who works for 1976 wages.

Anonymous said...

If you work for 1976 wages you are a loser that NOBODY else wants. Sell your poop elsewhere nobody believes you here.
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Dude, if you want the cold hard truth, those guys made more in 1976 than you do now, if you combine their benefits package. Anyone who worked one of the union shops back then knows that as fact, and yes, anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the business back then knows it is true.

Anonymous said...

12:26 Thanks. Why are they complaining then? Sounds like 1976 wages are good.

Anonymous said...

12:26 Thanks. Why are they complaining then? Sounds like 1976 wages are good.
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They were...in 1976. Back then, one of the newspaper union shops was one of the most sought out jobs in almost any city. Then came the right to work, affirmative action types that couldn't get on and the union busters had a field day with, "right to work" laws that the newspapers were pushing.

The Affirmative Action recipients flooded the industry and you what you see getting the boot today are them.

He's just mad because he just found out he has been getting ripped, after helping to rip his predecessors. McClatchy told him he was important and he believed them.

Anonymous said...

McClatchy said that nothing would happen before Feb.27. They had to put something out to stop the bleed in the stock market until they got their crap done.

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Where did MNI say nothing would happen before Feb. 27??

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Exactly. Where did this come from? FWST human resources scuttle is that MNI hasn't given the papers firm dollar targets, so they can't begin to slash people and product just yet. I don't know if I buy this.

Anonymous said...

110 million sounded pretty firm to me! Minimum staffing across the board. What is hard to figure out?

Anonymous said...

1:37, don't be a turkey.

Each paper is supposed to have a target based on their revenue. As I said, it supposedly hasn't been assigned to the papers. Word is now that the business climate is deteriorating so quickly that they are having trouble doing this. But I am merely a peon searching for info wherever I can find it. If you have some, offer it up. Otherwise, be kind and restrict your comments to the weather.

Anonymous said...

I do believe that the Feb. 27 date that is being refereed to or asked about is located in the 1st sentence 7th paragraph down of the letter to the union guild. It reads like it is more geared towards the Sac bee and not MNI wide, but what the hell do I know.

Anonymous said...

How can McClatchy justify giving different packages to different newspapers. Is that legal?
Please keep blogging aboout this in particular.

I know honesty and dignity is not at play here, but why not equalize the payout. Seems fair and honest to me.

Does the Federal Labot Department approve of this type thinking?

Just Wondering____