So, today is my official last day at work. These past four months have been strange ones: continuing to work for a company until they are ready to outsource your department kind of feels like living with someone who dumped you until they can find a new apartment -- with their new lover. Still, compared with the millions who got laid off and were jobless the same day, the four-month warning was preferable, as it (kind of) allowed me to prepare mentally and financially for what's next. I said I wasn't bitter when this all went down in November, and of course my feelings have changed a dozen times since (that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was no fool). But as this new memo from the Newspaper Guild makes painfully clear, the whole thing truly could have been avoided (we offered MORE concessions than they even asked for, including a 17 percent pay cut!). And because of this, it makes the whole unfortunate situation all the more sad.
This week marks the demise of the 93-year-old News Service. As Guild members will recall, The Times announced in November that it would outsource the work of the News Service to a new nonunion (and low paid) editing center in Gainesville, Florida, and lay off the department's staff of almost 30 editors. Wednesday will be the last day of work for nearly half the News Service workforce. The others are expected to be laid off in early June.
It did not have to come to this.
In December, News Service staffers indicated they were willing to work longer hours at a reduced salary to keep the department intact in New York. However, Times management’s outrageous demands that News Service employees agree to those steep wage cuts and be forced to revoke the buyouts that the majority had already been granted, were among the major factors that prevented an agreement to avert the subcontracting. Management also refused to guarantee that the work would not be subcontracted at least through 2011, which means that the workers could have been agreeing to nothing more than the pay cut and reduced severance, while management still could have gone ahead with its subcontracting plans.
Using Boston Globe-style negotiating tactics
While Times management at first seemed to express interest in reaching an agreement with the Guild, management cruelly decided at the last moment to scuttle a proposed deal. Apparently, management was more interested in sending Guild members in the Newsroom a message that it was prepared to play hardball, the way it did at the , in the upcoming 2011 contract negotiations, than it was in saving the venerable department.
“The Guild had made a proposal that met all of management’s initial goals for saving more than $5 million over the next five years, with no start-up costs and vastly reduced severance expenses,” said New York Guild President Bill O’Meara. “However, the company then moved the goalposts, even after it was forced to admit a $400,000 ‘error’ in its cost-saving projections. That ‘error’ was in its favor, of course.”
Under the Guild proposal, News Service employees would have agreed to a wage reduction of approximately 17 percent, and they would work a 40-hour week. The company would have saved about $1.5 million in and the operation would have continued uninterrupted.
Established in 1917, the News Service extended The Times' reach from New Jersey to the frontlines of Iraq to the space station. Every day, its editors sent stories by wire, by TimesDigest and through branded pages to the four corners of the world. Its staff deserved better from Times management.
On Wednesday, the first News Service editor reports to work at 10 a.m. The last leaves at 2:30 a.m. on Thursday. We hope Guild members can find a few minutes throughout the day to visit the staffers at their desks on the ninth floor to say goodbye and wish them well.