Friday, April 10, 2009

Albany Times Union Cancels Labor Agreement

The Times Union of Albany has canceled a union labor agreement as it tries to reduce costs.

The collective-bargaining agreement with The Albany Newspaper Guild covers about 240 of the newspaper's 450 employees, including reporters. The Hearst Corp.-owned newspaper announced the cancellation Thursday after negotiations failed to produce agreement on a new labor contract to replace one that expired in August.

The cancellation does not affect wage and job-protection provisions. But it does remove mandatory arbitration in disputes, mandatory deduction of union dues from employees' paychecks and a no-strike, no-lockout clause.

"We took this step only after making every effort to reach an agreement at the bargaining table," George R. Hearst III, the newspaper's publisher and chief executive, said in full-page letter addressed to "our loyal readers and advertisers" in Friday's edition.

Here is Hearst's letter:

Dear loyal readers and advertisers,
Over the past several months, you may have become aware of the difficulties confronting the entire news industry, including the Times Union. Digital media competition has hampered mature media, like newspapers, radio, cable and television outlets, exacerbated by the national economic crisis.

After more than nine months of negotiations, today we have canceled our collective bargaining agreement with the Newspaper Guild, covering 240 of the 450 Times Union employees. The contract was set to expire August 1, 2008.

We took this step only after making every effort to reach an agreement at the bargaining table. Central to both management and Guild bargaining representatives are the issues of seniority and the ability to outsource work -- areas in which we currently have no ability to consider the business needs of the Times Union or the talents of our employees.

Notwithstanding our need for flexibility, we are committed to keeping jobs in -- and even moving jobs to -- Albany under the right circumstances. We owe it to our employees and all of you to make the changes that are necessary to maintain the quality of the Times Union, now and in the future.

As we have told the Guild bargaining representatives, the termination of the contract will not result in any change in most terms and conditions of employment for Guild bargaining unit members. The Guild leadership has exaggerated the implications of this move. There will be no change in employment levels as a result of the cancellation of this expired contract. The biggest changes include the loss of dues collection by the Times Union and grievance arbitration. We certainly do not view canceling the contract as a hostile act, and hope that our employees will recognize it for what it is -- another step toward eventual settlement on a good contract.

The Times Union has served this community with honor and independence for 153 years -- bringing you news of war and peace, of progress in our community and the triumphs and tragedies that have confronted our neighbors. This newspaper has been a particular responsibility of our company since my great-grandfather bought the Times Union 85 years ago. It is my privilege, along with my management team, to face the task of continuing to serve the Capital Region and, eventually, to deliver this enterprise in good health to the next stewards of this great tradition.

We hope to have your support in this important endeavor and look forward to serving you for many years to come.

Sincerely yours,

George R. Hearst III

The Guild posted this on its blog:

A day after the Company canceled our contract, negotiations resumed without any progress.

Publisher George Hearst said he wants to begin layoffs by month’s end or early May at the latest, but he wants to eliminate those jobs without regard to seniority. He would need a new contractual agreement to do so.

Hearst said the Times Union is looking to lay off 65 to 75 workers between the exempt and Guild ranks. Despite assurances cuts would fall equally among Guild members and management, he went on to estimate that 60 jobs would come out of the 240 the Guild represents and the remaining 10 to 15 would come from the 110 people in the exempt ranks.

As the Guild has already documented, the Times Union is already top heavy with management, with one “manager” for every 2.5 employees.

Here is the letter from Guild President Tim O’Brien released today about his feelings:

People often stop and ask me how I cope with all that is going on at the Times Union.

It is not easy on any of us, of course. The worry about layoffs, the insecurity about the future of our business, and the rough treatment by our employer are difficult for all of us.

But what keeps me and all of the bargaining team going is the support of our members. The pats on the back, the kind words, the expressions of support, all mean more than you know.

Today, when I stopped by my mailbox, I found a card inside. I opened the envelope to find a note with today’s date that simply said: “Tim — Happy Spring, Happy Easter, Happy Vacation. Thanks for all you’re doing for us. Maybe this will help you find a distraction.”

Enclosed was a gift card. It was signed “Your membership.”

I don’t choke up often, folks. I did then. I do now as I write this. I do not know who did this, but I thank you so much.

I also got an e-mail today from one of my younger colleagues. He thanked me and said he was amazed I was standing up to one of the biggest corporations in America. He talked about how much the union meant to him and how he recognized the wages and benefits he enjoys are the results of being able to bargain contracts.

It is those moments that keep you going. I am grateful to all of you and especially to John, Stacy and Mary, my bargaining teammates, who have every bit as much “brass” as I do, and to International Representative Jim Schaufenbil for his tremendous wisdom and advice.

But I am most grateful to the people I have seen least in recent weeks: My wife Karen and my children Shannon and Kevin. And so, for the next few days, I will be reacquainting myself with my family. The timing is such that I will be unavailable for bargaining next week.

My amazing wife Karen is a former TU reporter and past Guild member. She has given me the OK to spend part of my time off next week speaking to all of you at a membership meeting. We are currently working to schedule that at lunch time on Wednesday or Friday next week. We will get details to you on Monday.

Thank you all so much. These are trying times, but I am so proud to be your president. We represent so many good people who have dedicated themselves to the Times Union. I am grateful to you every day.

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