Chronicle Union Accepts Longer Hours, Layoffs

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday March 18, 2009 - 07:12:00 PM

San Francisco Chronicle workers voted Friday to cut their benefits and extend their working hours so that fewer of their colleagues would lose their jobs. 

The agreement followed the Hearst Corporation’s announcement that without worker concessions, the company would sell or close San Francisco’s last metropolitan daily. 

Members of the Media Workers Guild had good reason to fear Hearst’s closure threat, given the company’s announcement that it is shutting down the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, leaving Seattle a one-newspaper town. 

San Francisco guild members voted 333 to 33 in favor of the company offer, according to a statement issued by the union after the vote. 

According to the union, “layoffs and buyouts are expected to claim at least 150 Guild jobs in the weeks ahead.” 

That figure means a further 26 percent reduction in an already severely diminished staff. The Teamsters, the company’s other major union with 420 employees, will vote on a similar pact in the near future. 

Among the concessions from the union were a 2.5-hour increase in the work week to 40 hours, elimination of seniority rights, reductions in vacation and leave time and acceptance of the company’s ability to outsource jobs previously covered by the union. 

In Seattle, Hearst’s Post-Intelligencer will remain a journalism “brand,” though in vastly diminished form on a website the paper reported will employ a total staff of about 40, equally divided between advertising and news. The final edition rolled off the presses Tuesday, March 17. 

Another paper headed for the chopping block won a reprieve this week when the Gannet Co. announced it was granting the Tucson Citizen a day-to-day reprieve while it negotiated with prospective buyers. 

And another Southern California newspaper found a buyer Wednesday, when the famly-owned San Diego Union-Tribune announced its own acquisition by Platinum Equity, a private Beverly Hills firm.  

Those are the two brightest spots in a month that’s otherwise been thoroughly gloomy in halls of the Fourth Estate. 

Paper Cuts, a webslog that tracks newspaper layoffs, had reported on March 2 that 3,166 newspaper folk had been laid off in the year’s first two months. By Wednesday, March 18, the figure had reached 5,626. At that pace, 2009 is certain to soar ahead of the 15,684 jobs lost last year (http://graphicdesignr.net/papercuts/).