Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hearst Aims to Break Guild Contract at Albany Times Union

UPDATE, 6:02 p.m. Eastern: Word came out late this afternoon that management is planning to lay off at least 65 people. See story here.

Using what its union sees as a strong-armed tactic, the Hearst Corp., owners of the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, has notified the Guild that it will cancel its month-to-month contract on April 9. The Guild's website, albanyguild.wordpress.com, said the move was an effort to make it swallow all of the company's demands to reduce costs.

“The message to members is that if you don’t allow the Company to gut your contract, it will launch an unprecedented assault on your union,” Guild President Tim O’Brien said.

Canceling the contract would mean the union would no longer be able to take grievances to an independent arbitrator. The Company also claims it will be able to cease deducting dues from your paycheck. The union disagrees and will seek help from the Guild International.

“This in no way allows the Company to impose the contract language that it wants,” O’Brien said. “It cannot lay people off while ignoring the seniority language or outsource our work. This is meant to force the union to its knees because your bargaining team has stood up for you and continues to stand up for you.”

O’Brien told Publisher George Hearst it was the dumbest move the Company could make. The union has tremendous support from labor leaders in the Capital Region. “If the Company wants to target the union, the Guild will have no choice but to respond in kind, preparing to launch a circulation and advertising boycott should the Company follow through on its threat and cancel the contract.”

The move also came at the end of a day when the Guild leadership offered significant concessions: including a 5 percent across-the-board wage cut, the elimination of overtime until employees have worked 40 hours a week (not just 7.5 hours a day), the end of the bonus day for those who never take sick time.

Later in the day, the Guild offered an amendment to the layoff language, allowing the Company to lay off employees by job title rather than department: Layoffs would still have to be done by reverse order of seniority, a significant give on the union’s part.

The Company said it intends to lay off 20-25 percent of Guild members, but the numbers it provided — 65 to 70 workers – make up closer to 30 percent of the bargaining unit.

“While this action is not unusual in most labor-management negotiations, it is unprecedented here,” Hearst explained in the statement. “We took this action only after much internal contemplation and discussion, but we felt that it was an essential step to stimulate progress in this negotiation.”

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