Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chronicle, Union Reach Deal on Job Cuts

By Robert Gammon
Tue, Mar 10, 2009 at 12:24 PM

The owners of the San Francisco Chronicle and the union representing journalists have reached a tentative agreement to limit job losses in exchange for giving up seniority rights. If the deal is approved by the rank-and-file membership of the California Media Workers Guild, then 150 Chronicle union employees will be laid off - many of them from the newsroom. A vote on the pact could take place as early as Thursday.

The company had threatened to slash up to 225 jobs if the union didn't agree to its demands. The company wants to lay off higher paid, veteran journalists, so it can keep more lower paid, newer ones. If the deal goes through, then "seniority no longer applies in layoffs," said guild union representative Carl Hall, a Chron reporter currently on leave from the paper. "That's the big concession from our standpoint."

The union also got some concessions of its own. The company agreed to provide a decent severance package to laid off employees - two weeks of pay for every year of service, up to a maximum payout of one year's pay. The severance deal also applies to all future layoffs, including if the newspaper ultimately folds. Under the current contract, laid off employees have no guarantee of severance.

Chron employees also will see cuts to their vacation and sick time, and maternity/paternity leave. The company also will have the right to outsource some union jobs. The employee workweek also will increase from 37.5 hours to 40. In addition, a 2 percent pay raise scheduled for January 2010, will instead be transferred into the workers' health plan. Still to be negotiated is the future of the employee pension plan, which has been rocked by the recession and by an increasing number of retirees at a time when the number of employees who pay into the plan has dwindled.

The deal also puts off for now any plan by the paper's owner, Hearst Corporation, to sell or close the Chron. Although the company gave no concrete assurances that it has shelved this plan, company negotiators made it clear at the bargaining table that they hope the layoffs and cuts will allow Hearst to keep the paper and remain in business. Currently, the guild represents 483 Chron employees, including 218 in the newsroom. The company must still negotiate a deal with the Teamsters union, which represents 420 non-newsroom workers.

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