9/24/08

Teamsters take dues hit in Pittsburgh

More union-dues stories: here

Free market threatens militant union

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette plans to buy out workers or lay them off in a broad cost-cutting move, barely two years after its Ohio parent threatened to sell the struggling newspaper if it didn't get concessions.

Management needs to "cut staff throughout the company," Executive Editor David Shribman said in a memo to employees. It blamed the newspaper's "revenue situation." Shribman declined to comment. He referred questions to marketing director Tracey DeAngelo, who did not return phone calls.

Between 10 and 20 Teamsters will lose their jobs in circulation, transportation and the stock room by year's end, said Joseph Molinero, president of Local 211, which represents 295 workers at the paper. He suspected steeper layoffs would occur elsewhere.

The full depth and scope of potential staff cuts were not immediately known.

Post-Gazette management plans to brief leadership of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh on details of the buyout Monday, said one union official, who declined further comment. The guild is the only union of P-G workers whose contract requires a buyout offer before layoffs can occur.

"I don't like it, but I'm a realist," said Molinero. "I've been to 11 different cities this year, and all 11 newspapers there were citing financial problems."

Newspapers generally have seen accelerated decreases in revenue in the past two years as advertising moves to the Internet.

The industry's year-over-year ad revenue declined 1.5 percent in second-quarter 2006; 8.6 percent a year later; and 15.1 percent last spring, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

For example, the McClatchy Co., which owns more than 30 newspapers, has reduced its work force by 30 percent and cut its shareholder dividend in half. Early this year, its chairman said staffing would again be cut to 10,000 from 14,000 at newspapers such as the Miami Herald.

The Post-Gazette is owned by Block Communications Inc. of Toledo, Ohio, which also owns The Blade there. Block said it lost $11 million from 2003 through 2005, then lost $12 million through August 2006, the last time figures were made publicly available.

"These are hard times to be sure," Shribman said in his memo.

"We are looking at all of our employees, union and non-union," including cuts to the news department, it said. Shribman wrote that he hoped the buyout incentives would reduce staff enough so that layoffs would not be needed.

"If the P-G is following this course, it is one that virtually every major newspaper company has taken this year," said Ralph Martin, CEO of Trib Total Media, which publishes the Tribune-Review. "It's a business decision based on tough economics."

Company Chairman Allan Block in September 2006 threatened to sell the Post-Gazette if the two sides didn't reach an agreement that addressed "the issues of rapidly rising costs and declining revenue."

The Post-Gazette's last significant layoff was in early 2007, when it let go about 80 workers in circulation, transportation, stock room, garage and warehouse operations.

The Newspaper Guild's contract states management must offer staffers "voluntary incentives" to leave before laying off union members. The paper must also first cut the budget by 20 percent for "stringers," or contributing writers, as well as eliminate intern programs.

Last year's cost-cutting followed a three-year contract agreement reached in February 2007 between the newspaper and the Pittsburgh Newspaper Unions Unity Council. The council negotiated for 10 labor unions, whose contracts covered about 1,040 P-G workers. The agreement expires on March 31, 2010.

"I don't think you can find a newspaper in this country who is happy with how they are doing financially these days. Not a one," said Don McConnell, president of the Pittsburgh Typographical Union No. 7. It represents 162 composing, finance and advertising workers at the P-G.

McConnell was unfamiliar with management's buyout or layoff plans.

(pittsburghlive.com)

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