Friday, June 05, 2009

SPECIAL REPORT: Facing Pay Cuts, Furloughs to Avoid Layoffs

By Joe Strupp
Published: June 05, 2009
11:00 AM ET

NEW YORK When owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News asked guild members last fall to give up a $25-per-week raise, most were agreeable to the idea. Shelly Richards, a member of the Philadelphia Newspaper Guild executive board and an advertising customer services employee, says they all knew the company was in dire straits, with ad revenue and circulation plummeting.

The guild members voted to defer the raise, but they were mostly glad to do it, Richards says. A sense of shared pain for the rank and file pushed the point home. "If you look around the country, people are being asked to sacrifice for the greater good," she notes. "People felt they were doing it in that sense."But in March, a bombshell dropped. Word spread that company executives had received bonuses of between $150,000 and $300,000, in addition to pay raises. While the raises were eventually returned, the bonuses have not been given back. The fallout was predictably harsh among guild members.
"My reaction was sadness, disappointment and disgust," says guild leader Richards. "People were angered and upset. Based on what happened, we will be very careful to agreeing to anything we surrender." Now, she adds, "There is no sense of comfort with management."

The Philly brass aren't the only ones accused of being disingenuous. Journal Register Company, which has filed for bankruptcy protection, in April heard objections from Pennsylvania and Connecticut state officials to a plan to give its executives $1.7 million in bonuses. The Pennsylvania-based company also owns several Connecticut newspapers.In short, the mood among newspaper staffs is grim.

Already cut to the bone in many cases, newsrooms across the country are now seeing fewer layoffs and more requests to give up some compensation. In just the past few months, the number of newspapers and whole chains instituting unpaid furloughs, salary cuts, and freezes on retirement funds has skyrocketed. Gannett alone has already instituted two rounds of furloughs for this year, while Media General, Advance Publications, Lee Enterprises and various Media News Group outlets have also put them into effect. Belo and Morris Communications are cutting salaries or retirement matches.

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