Thursday, February 28, 2008

Prop 98’s passage could land $15 million for Sam Zell’s firm

By John Howard and Anthony York (published Thursday, February 28, 2008)
Capital Weekly

A company run by Sam Zell, the new chairman of the Los Angeles Times’ corporate parent, stands to gain up to $15 million if an eminent domain initiative on the June ballot is approved by California voters.

The initiative, Proposition 98, would repeal rent control ordinances across California, which could lead to a boon for Zell.

Zell, the Tribune Co. chairman, is also chairman of Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc., a Chicago-based company that owns more than 112,000 residential units across the United States and Canada. The company’s 28 properties in California include a dozen rent-controlled mobile home parks.

But Proposition 98 would phase out those rent-control laws. And that could lead to a windfall over time for Zell and his company, according to documents that Equity Lifestyle has filed with the Security and Exchange Commission.

“Certain of our properties located in California are subject to rent control ordinances, some of which not only severely restrict ongoing rent increases, but also prohibit us from increasing rents upon turnover,” Zell’s company told SEC regulators in its 2006 annual financial report.

“The company estimates that the annual rent subsidy to tenants in these jurisdictions may be in excess of $15 million,” Equity Lifestyles stated in the report. “In a more well-balanced regulatory environment, the company would receive market rents that would eliminate the subsidy and homes would trade at or near their intrinsic value.”

Equity Lifestyles has contributed $50,000 to the Yes on 98 campaign, according to documents at the secretary of state’s office.

Zell made his bid for Tribune Co. last spring, and the bid received final approval from the company’s shareholders in December. The Times has written about Proposition 98 and disclosed Zell’s contribution in a Jan. 29 story. The account did not mention the potential windfall for Zell.

The Times will take an editorial position on the initiative closer to Election Day and will not consult Zell or take his role in the campaign into account, said Jim Newton, the Times’ editorial page editor.

“We do intend to make an endorsement in the Proposition 98 race, and we will come to our position as we do with other ballot propositions. The decision will be made by the editorial board,” he said, “but we will not include Zell in that conversation. We will not consider his role in the campaign or any of his financial interests.”

Zell, who was traveling, was unavailable to comment, said his spokeswoman, Terry Holt.

The rent-control fight is not a new one for Zell. Zell’s company has filed several lawsuits against cities across California in efforts to repeal local rent-control ordinances. The company settled a suit with the city of Santa Cruz; the settlement allows the company to increase rents after existing tenants move out.

The company has also been engaged in an ongoing battle with the city of San Rafael in federal court and has been sued by tenants’ rights groups in Marin in response to the company’s efforts to raise rents.

Zell has made a name for himself purchasing what are considered to be undervalued or distressed properties, and seeking changes in laws and regulations to increase their value. A 1995 New York Times article on Zell, who once tried to acquire Rockefeller Center, described him and his late partner as “classic ‘vulture’ investors — they bought faltering properties or businesses at cents on the dollar, betting that with a little prudent management and upturns in the business cycle, the value of their bargain-basement purchases would rise.”

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which is sponsoring Proposition 98, says the rent control provisions are a minor piece of the Proposition 98 campaign. He says opponents of the initiative, including the League of Cities, is focusing on the rent control provisions of the initiative for political reasons.

“I can tell you that the two top contributors to the initiative are the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Farm Bureau, neither of which are that focused on the rent-control element,” Coupal said. “All this crap from the other side that the whole thing is about rent control is just not true. The core of our initiative is the eminent domain reform.”

According to documents at the secretary of state’s office, the Yes on 98 campaign has raised more than $2.4 million. The Jarvis group has given more than $323,000 to the effort. The farm bureau has donated $290,000. But other major funding has come from mobile home parks and other property groups.

The Apartment Owners Association PAC has given $291,000. Apartment owners stand to benefit from both the elimination of rent control and the eminent domain measures in the initiative.

A fund raising flyer for the AOA talks about the measure and “how to end rent control.” “When passed by the voters, the (initiative) will have a dramatic impact on rent control laws in the state of California,” the flyer states. It calls rent control “the most egregious example of private property taking for the purpose of conferring an economic benefit on another private individual.”

Various mobile home park owners and interests, including Equity and the Manufactured Housing Educational Trust, have donated tens of thousands more.

“This measure was created for landlords, paid for by landlords, for the financial benefit of landlords,” said No on 98 spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks. “Rent control provisions were specifically included to attract funding — otherwise it wouldn’t have even made it on the ballot. Landlords and the groups that represent them have contributed 85 percent of the funding so far. Clearly their motivation is rent control, not eminent domain.”

NGA-CWA Wants ESOP For Zell's Union employees

TNG-CWA Calls for Representation of Worker Interests in Tribune Company ESOP

Following is a statement by Linda Foley, president of TNG-CWA, on the proposed sale of Tribune Co. newspapers and television stations to real estate investor Samuel Zell.

Washington, D.C. -- Few details of the bid by Samuel Zell to buy the Tribune Company have been spelled out, other than the fact that an employee stock ownership plan will play a major part in the transaction. But this much is clear: The Newspaper Guild-CWA will do everything possible on behalf of union-represented workers at the properties and to look out for the interests of all 20,000 Tribune Company employees.

The employee stock ownership plan – a significant part of this deal – can result in a positive partnership that benefits everyone involved or it can be a frustrating experience for worker-investors who end up bearing much of risk while experiencing little positive gain.

We hope that this will not be the case as this transaction goes forward. Samuel Zell has described his vision as a “partnership” between his organization and Tribune Company employees who would be participating in the ESOP.

Because the introduction of an ESOP is a mandatory subject for collective bargaining, union-represented workers at several of the Tribune Company properties – the Baltimore Sun, WPIX-TV in New York and Newsday – will be able to evaluate and fully assess the benefits and risks of such a plan.

TNG-CWA believes that all Tribune Company employees deserve this same opportunity and level of representation, and we are committed to providing that voice. For this effort to succeed, it must be more than an ESOP designed for investment purposes only. It must provide a real opportunity for workers to have a voice, first in evaluating the plan, and also in how the effort goes forward.

TNG-CWA is intrigued by the possibilities that could result from a genuine, new partnership. We bring a wealth of experience from work in December 2005, when we hired advisers to help us initiate ESOP transactions to protect our members working for Knight Ridder newspapers. Our union learned a tremendous amount about how these transactions are done and what we will be able to do to influence them.

We are committed to putting that knowledge and experience to work for all Tribune Company employees. For further information, the best resource for staying current with the Tribune transaction remains

To Zell And Back

Pressing Issues

Crusty Sam Zell, new owner of the L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune and other papers, has drawn a lot of laughs and fire the past couple of weeks with his various blunt or profane comments to staffers.

Yesterday he added to this on CNBC by blaming the country's economic woes on "fear mongering" by Hillary and Obama who are personally halting a recovery, saying: "Obviously what we have going on is an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Zell. "We have two Democratic candidates who are vying with each other to describe the economic situation worse."

Dave Horsey, the longtime editorial cartoonist, comments today with a slam at Zell's news values -- syndicated by Zell's own Tribune.

He also provides a lengthy blast in a blog post, at his home Seattle Post-Intelligencer site, in which he writes:

"Sam Zell is the most vulgar embodiment of a pervasive bean counter mentality that is threatening the best of American journalism."

Cartoonist Horsey Rips Zell in Word and Drawing

By E&P Staff

Published: February 27, 2008 9:30 AM ET
NEW YORK David Horsey, the longtime political cartoonist with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, today knocks new Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell in a multi-panel cartoon -- and blog post -- at the paper's site. His cartoons are syndicated by Tribune Media Services.

Zell continues to make news with blunt, sometimes profane, comments to staffers about their work and news values, and has been suggesting further cuts to come.

The cartoon, which comments on Zell's recent statements, ends with what it calls the new owner's most desired front-page headline: ORANGE COUNTY PUPPIES ARE THE CUTEST, along with an ad for a strip club below.

It can be found here.

Here is an except from the blog post by Horsey, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

Who is Sam Zell and why should you care? The answer to the second part of that question is easy: the health of our nation depends on an informed electorate and an informed electorate depends on an unfettered news media willing to tell people more than what they want to hear.

The answer to the first part of that question is that Sam Zell is the most vulgar embodiment of a pervasive bean counter mentality that is threatening the best of American journalism.

At the end of 2007, Zell concluded a sweet deal to take over the Chicago-based Tribune Company -- sweet, because he did it with a small amount of his own money. He leveraged the deal by borrowing billions of dollars from the Tribune employees retirement funds (how this is legal, I cannot fathom). Now he is master of a media conglomerate that reaches 80 percent of Americans through 23 televisions stations and 11 daily newspapers.

What does Zell know about journalism? No more than any other billionaire real estate mogul. But that hasn't stopped him from telling off journalists at some of the country's best newspapers -- the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Hartford Courant, the Baltimore Sun and, finest of all, the Los Angeles Times. Zell has told these new employees of his that they are practitioners of an arrogant kind of journalism that doesn't give readers what they want and fails to make increasing company profits a key objective of news gathering.

As I detailed in my cartoon, Zell has delivered his message on a grand tour of his properties, dropping F-bombs all along the way. Worse than his crude language, though, is his vision of the future of journalism. Apparently, foreign coverage and reporting from Washington, D.C., will be discounted. Stories that seek to protect the public interest by tackling tough, important subjects will be frowned upon, unless they can somehow be shown to enhance the bottom line....

No one would dispute that newspapers are in dire trouble. Profits and readership are falling fast. But publishing pap will not bring them back. People still value serious and substantive information. Newspaper web sites are booming. What is missing is a new economic model for the news business. That's what a smart businessman like Zell should be working on. Sure, journalists need to adapt to new ways of delivering information to an audience that can access a world of information with a few clicks of a mouse. But dumbing down the news product is the dumbest idea of all. It won't bring in the profits wheeler-dealers like Zell crave. It will, however, imperil our free society.

There is a reason Thomas Jefferson said, if given the choice between a government without newspapers and newspapers without a government, he'd opt for the latter. Jefferson knew there was nothing less at stake in that equation than our very liberty.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Zell trumpets tearing down bureau walls

February 27, 2008

Break down these ... walls," Sam Zell told print and broadcast staff Tuesday at Tribune Co.'s Washington bureau, part of the boss' tour of the company's various media properties, and you can bloody well guess what the ellipsis is for if you've been keeping tabs on Zell's road shows to date.

It wasn't exactly Ronald Reagan at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, but it was close.

Zell, Tribune's chairman and chief executive, wants to unify the company's Washington bureau, and he seems to feel diplomacy has gotten the company nowhere so far.

To Zell, the bureau isn't home to reporters from its Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Newsday and Los Angeles Times. Rather, it's a single, overstaffed Tribune Co. cost center that doesn't produce any revenue. According to several in attendance, Zell said the competing "fiefdoms" are an embarrassment.

Repeating recent comments about how the media business is in crisis, Zell said he recognized the importance of national news and news from Washington, but the bureau's structure is "unsupportable," and its "bloated" size is "unequivocally economically unjustifiable." And he singled out the Los Angeles Times' contingent.

"Sam thumped them pretty hard," one attendee said.

The grilling over Washington staffing is emblematic of a debate raging in media circles. Declining revenue is forcing outlets to reconsider how they allocate dwindling resources, what coverage is vital as opposed to a luxury and the price of sharing content.

Zell noted the Chicago Tribune has greater cash flow than the Times, but the Times has more than twice the number of staffers in the capital, at 54. Times bureau chief Doyle McManus corrected him, pointing out Los Angeles' number is actually 47. ( Chicago, it turns out, has 16.)

"Your revenue is down 20 percent," Zell fired back. "How many of the 47 did you get rid of?"

Zell also pointed out that that is far more people than have been covering California's Orange County in the Times' home market.

It was that kind of get-together.

With phone-message slips from media reporters seeking details piling up on his desk, McManus politely declined to talk about the meeting with Zell, the 90 minutes or so of informal give-and-take with Zell afterward or the briefing McManus held later with just his own rattled staff.

"Sam Zell likes to say his role is to throw bombs and shake people up. He's a man of his word," McManus said in a staff memo. "A number of us stayed later and got some more clarification and elucidation of what he meant. Short version: It shouldn't be taken literally."

Zell repeatedly has stressed since the December closing of the $8.2 billion deal taking Chicago-based Tribune Co. private that its individual business units need to be able to make, and be held accountable for, their own decisions, rather than be subjected to corporate decision-making from afar.

That, presumably, would make the Times' Washington staffing a decision for David Hiller, the Los Angeles paper's publisher, and Russ Stanton, its new editor. But Zell wants all Tribune papers to develop a new plan for Washington, starting with a "blank slate," saying his team will if they don't.

While he made it clear he sees it as a Tribune Co. bureau, not a collection of Washington bureaus, and wants it smaller, he indicated he has no specific idea what the bureau's ideal size would be or how it should work.

Neither Hiller nor Stanton responded to requests for interviews Tuesday, but the question of sharing of resources between the Times and other Tribune papers in Washington was put to Stanton shortly after his appointment two weeks earlier.

"I understand why Sam's asking the questions," Stanton told the Chicago Tribune. "I can see why someone would think that would be a good idea. I haven't had a chance [to consider it]. I've been in the job 21/2 hours.

"The trick is going to be: Can you do it in a way that doesn't strip each of the papers of its own unique ability to cover things that are important to them in the capital?"

Actually, when the walls come tumbling down, the trick might be to not get crushed underneath.


The Three-Tone Bell Tolls For Thirteen

In early February, when Neal Shapiro officially took over as the president of the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, the former president of NBC News vowed to bring a stepped-up commercial metabolism to New York’s public broadcasting stations, WNET-13 and WLIW-21.

To judge by his first few weeks on the job, Mr. Shapiro has also brought along something else: big-network-style layoffs.

On Feb. 13, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, close to 10 employees of Channel 13’s communications department were summoned to a meeting and told that they were being let go. There would be no two weeks’ notice. No traditional public-television hand-holding. Afterward, according to the source, the staffers cleaned out their desks and departed.

Later that day, the vice president for Institutional Advancement, Barbara Bantivoglio, sent out a memo to Channel 13 staffers explaining in classic corporate prose that the cuts were the result of an “organizational audit,” which had previously determined “that the structure of the department required adjustment.”

While the rest of the public television universe is busy debating—thank you, Charles McGrath!—the future of the industry, staff members at Channel 13 do not have the luxury of being very philosophical about it in the short term.

According to sources, the aforementioned audit was not limited to the communications team.

Which means more “adjustments,” in more departments, are still to come.

A spokesperson for Channel 13 did not respond to a request seeking comment.

“There’s an assumption that this is just the beginning,” said one staff member. “Everyone is in a state of shock. People are angry. People are hurt.”

The Ax Man Cometh

I thought Mr. Zell would be a breath of fresh air and could turn Tribune around. That being said, his anti-union bias is disturbing to me, and to many of the other IBEW, IATSE, DGA, AFTRA, and Newspaper Guild members in his employ.

When Sam took over, huge signs appeared at WPIX saying "You Own This Place Now". But only the non-union Tribune employees were actually included in the new Employee Stock Ownership Plan(ESOP)that now owns the privately held Tribune Company. Left out were the 70% of his new employees represented by AFTRA,DGA,IATSE,IBEW,and the Newspaper Guild.

It should also have be a clue when we discovered that the ESOP is actually a tax dodge and the employee owners of Tribune now get the tax liability, but no seat on the Tribune board of directors.

Well, here come the layoffs at the newspapers. I'm guessing that consolidation, outsourcing, and layoffs at the TV stations (I work at WPIX) are next. Oh well,time to start practicing: "Would you like fries with that?"


Waiting For Sam: Zell Hovering As Newsday Shakes

When Will Magnate Turn Chilly Gaze From L.A. Times To Quivering L.I.?

This article was published in the February 27, 2008, edition of The New York Observer.

Sam Zell.
William Couch’s Flickr Sam Zell.

It’s been a jittery two weeks in Melville.

Over the next week, Newsday reporters and editors are expecting an announcement about job cuts. Even veterans of the Vlad the Impaler year of 1995, in which Times Mirror ordered the elimination of 800 jobs from a payroll of 3,200, contemplate the coming week with dread.

“To be honest with you, it’s really grim here,” said James Bernstein, a business reporter and 30-year-veteran.

“It’s very bleak, and everyone is totally absorbed in it,” said another reporter.

“It really wears you down,” said William Murphy, a reporter on the Long Island desk.

On Feb. 13 Sam Zell—who bought Newsday’s parent company for $8.2 billion in December—wrote in an e-mail that there would be job cuts at every Tribune paper. The L.A. Times made its announcement the next day—100 to 150 jobs would be lost—and the Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant put their estimates at about 45 jobs. Newsday has yet to make its decisions on job cuts.

“First you’ll hear the rumor that it’s seven positions, then 40, then 10, then you hear the newsroom will be spared, then it won’t, and there’s just all these e-mails back and forth and no one knows what’s happening,” said Mr. Murphy.

“It’s difficult to work ’cause one second you’re on the phone and then somebody comes in and screams, ‘I heard the latest!’ And then you tell the guy on the phone, ‘Wait, I’ll be right back with you,’” said Mr. Bernstein.

And the latest is still little more than: The decision is coming.

“We’ve gotten the sense that it will be this week,” said Zachary Dowdy, a reporter and editorial vice president of the Local 406 that represents Newsday employees.

It’s an exacting time at papers nationally—The New York Times announced earlier this month that it was cutting about 100 newsroom jobs this year.

But at Newsday, there is no jobectomy left that won’t take out some bone.

Since the 1995 purge that eliminated the paper’s New York edition, the paper has steadily cut positions, generally in increments of 50.

Thirteen positions in the newsroom have been vacated in the last year, and have not been refilled; it’s not clear whether those will even count toward whatever cuts Newsday will have to make. (L.A. Times publisher David Hiller announced in his job-cuts e-mail that all open positions would be eliminated.)

In one demoralizing memo back in December, editor John Mancini announced that four star reporters were leaving: Matthew McAllester to Details; Katie Thomas to The Times; Tom McGinty to The Wall Street Journal; and James Rupert to Bloomberg News.

Mr. Murphy, the Long Island reporter, felt that Newsday got beat badly on a story in its own backyard—the story of the three children found dead in their Garden City apartment on Feb. 24—because the paper hasn’t replaced its social services reporter after Lauren Terrazzano died last year.

But what gets really depressing are the small-ticket items that are being slashed: Can the scale of Newsday’s current expenses really make the cancellation of staff subscriptions to the New York Post, the Daily News and USA Today seem worth the candle? Who’s going to bust ass on a story after they’ve initialed the pass-around chit on the single copy of The Times and two copies of The Wall Street Journal that wend their way among the desks of 26 reporters and editors?

“You get accustomed to opening newspapers at Newsday, it’s been like that for 30 years,” said Mr. Bernstein. “Now it’s like working blind!”

The environment like this one leads to all sorts of speculation: One reporter grumbled about the cafeteria shortening its hours after the paper replaced contractors late last year; another said that reporters are being discouraged to taking sources out to lunch.

The paper’s summer internship program, one of the most popular nationally with college seniors and J-school grad students since it offered up to 25 internships, a cushy $523 weekly salary and a job offer for two interns, will be cut this year. Two reporters said that word around the newsroom is that it will save the paper a little more than $100,000.

The paper’s spokeswoman, Deidra Parrish Williams, described the cut this way: “What I can tell you is that the summer internship is on a hiatus, but we will still have academic interns. With regards to your question about whether those interns will be offered jobs, that is still taking shape.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Unions Under Assault

The Kentucky River Decision


There are two "wars" going on in this country, each of which has the power to dramatically affect the future of working people. One is the war being waged by organized labor, seeking (through membership drives, lobbying and political contributions) to expand its base, gain new members, and galvanize its existing membership against assaults from anti-union forces.

This war to "recruit and maintain" is an uphill battle. The AFL-CIO's recent failure to organize even one of Wal-Mart's then 3,600 stores in the U.S. (today there are 4,000), despite allocating enormous resources to the effort, is an indication of just how daunting a mission this is.

The other war is a political one. It is a war being waged by the Bush administration's Department of Labor, Department of Justice and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a war committed to reducing even further labor's diminishing influence.

The corporation-owned Bushies have a clear mandate: To cripple organized labor. And they've been busy at it, being creative. For example, the administration has attempted to strip the collective bargaining privileges from the 160,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security, and has argued that graduate assistants and temp workers cannot, by law, seek union representation. They've been busy.

But one of the most significant recent battles in this war was the October, 2006, ruling by the Bush-appointed NLRB, involving three separate groups of health care employees. It has come to be known collectively as the "Kentucky River" decision.

A bit of history: While the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (the "Wagner Act") gave unions the statutory right to organize workers and to act as their sole representative in the collective bargaining process, the anti-union 1947 Taft-Hartley Act added a key restriction. Taft-Hartley stipulated that "supervisory personnel" were exempt from the statute. In short, managers, supervisors and other "bosses" were not allowed to be represented by a union. No supervisors allowed. Fair enough.

To clarify the restriction, the Taft-Hartley Act defined a supervisor as:

". . . any individual having authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or responsibly to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend such action, if in connection with the foregoing the exercise of such authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment."

The employees involved in the Kentucky River cases are nurses employed at nursing facilities in Kentucky-specifically "charge nurses," the ones who act more or less as lead persons, directing other nurses as to what patients need attending, what medications are to be administered, when to administer them, etc. Charge nurses have no managerial authority; they can't hire, fire, reprimand, reward, alter seniority or adjust the pay of their fellow workers.

Even though it's clear that the Taft-Hartley Act was not intended to apply to lead men, hourly clerical administrators or "straw bosses," the Bush administration's minions on the NLRB willfully misinterpreted its language, and ruled that charge nurses (while having no supervisory authority) fell into the broad category of "supervisor," and, therefore, did not qualify as employees eligible to join a union.

While this ruling was directed specifically against employees in a Kentucky nursing home, it's a decision (a "clarification") that has broad implications and clearly transcends the health care industry. Judging by the Bush administration's aggressive track record, nurses are just the first step.

Lame duck president or not, there's still time for this crew to severely damage the movement. The Kentucky River decision cuts to the heart of a worker's right to seek union representation, and affects, potentially, millions of employees across the United States.

In truth, the only way organized labor can hope to alter these and similar decisions is by electing a Democrat to the White House and having a substantial majority (not the razor thin one that exists now) of Democrats in the House of Representatives and Senate. There are simply too many enemies of labor lurking about-from corporations, libertarians, lobbyists, Republicans, the Supreme Court-to win this war by any other means.

Labor needs to regain, at least nominally, the control of the three political arms of the government. A Democrat-whether it's Clinton or Obama-can be depended upon to appoint an NLRB 5-person board that is infinitely friendlier to labor than the one that's been in place for the last seven years.

Only with a labor-friendly congress and a pro-labor president in the White House will it be possible for substantive changes to be made. As much as labor unions feel that they've been betrayed and let down by the Democrats (and, God help us, they have), they can't go it alone. There are simply too many obstacles in the way. They'll need help.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was president and chief contract negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000. He can be reached at:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A-list actors want action on contract

Determined to avoid another strike, major stars pressure their guild to stop posturing and start negotiating.
By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 23, 2008
Two of Hollywood's biggest stars -- George Clooney and Tom Hanks -- dropped in at the home of Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg this week to deliver a message: Start negotiating.

With the writers strike fresh in their minds, the high-powered actors want to head off another labor disruption that could paralyze the film and television industry.

So during a two-hour meeting Tuesday night, Clooney and Hanks -- joined by Sally Field and Rob Lowe -- urged Rosenberg and guild negotiator Doug Allen to tone down their rhetoric and get to the bargaining table, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting.

The session was the latest in series of efforts by top stars to nudge guild leaders into early negotiations on a new SAG contract to replace one that expires June 30. Actors strongly supported the writers during their recent 100-day walkout, but are anxious to begin work again after Hollywood's costliest work stoppage in two decades.

Separately, a large number of influential SAG members are pushing their guild to adopt restrictions on who would be allowed to vote on the film and TV contract.

On Wednesday, a group of actors presented a petition to SAG leaders calling on the guild to implement so-called "qualified voting." The petition was signed by more than 1,000 actors, including Kevin Bacon, Glenn Close, Ben Affleck and Ethan Hawke.

Despite such big-name support, the proposal is likely to face stiff resistance from the guild's national board because it could disqualify many if not most of the guild's 120,000 members from voting on the principal contract.

"I'm totally against the idea," Rosenberg said. "It disenfranchises . . . people who are already marginalized."

Nonetheless, Rosenberg said the idea gained enough support to justify bringing it before the guild's 71-member board, which has the authority to impose such restrictions.

Rosenberg declined to discuss the meeting at his house, other than to acknowledge that Clooney, Hanks and the others wielded tremendous influence in the guild.

"Their participation is crucial to our success," he said.

The actors also declined to comment. Participants at the meeting agreed not to publicly discuss the session, according to the people with knowledge of the meeting.

Rosenberg called the session after Clooney, Hanks, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep took out a full-page advertisement in Hollywood trade publications last week calling on the guild to begin negotiations immediately.

Concerns about the guild's negotiating posture came to a head recently when Allen, SAG's chief negotiator, and Rosenberg criticized a new Directors Guild of America contract that subsequently became the basis for the writers agreement.

The men vowed to press not only for improved pay in new media but for something neither writers nor directors won -- an increase in residuals from the sale of DVDs.

But during Tuesday's meeting Clooney and his colleagues objected to what they perceived as saber-rattling by Allen and Rosenberg, and stressed that actors were reluctant to endure another walkout, according to the people with knowledge of the meeting.

Hanks said he was concerned about the plight of actors who had been out of work during the writers strike.

Clooney grilled Allen about concerns he had heard from SAG members in New York that the leadership was too close to hard-line guild activists in Hollywood.

Field highlighted the urgency of beginning early talks.

The actress, who won an Oscar for her role as a fiery union leader in the 1979 movie "Norma Rae," had previously butted heads with Rosenberg.

According to witnesses, the two fell into in a heated exchange at the end of the SAG Awards dinner last month when Field, star of the ABC drama "Brothers & Sisters," pressed Rosenberg to fast-track negotiations and questioned his leadership. Rosenberg's wife, "CSI" actress Marg Helgenberger, intervened to defend him, according to one of the witnesses. "He became very agitated," said Field's publicist, Heidi Schaeffer, who was not among the witnesses. Rosenberg declined to comment.

During Tuesday's meeting, Rosenberg stressed that he wasn't looking to go to war with the studios and said he and Allen already had begun informal discussions with studio chiefs, the sources said. The SAG officials met with Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger on Friday and discussed a possible timetable for talks.

Guild leaders have said they won't begin formal negotiations until they have completed a series of meetings with members, scheduled to run through mid-March, to identify their chief bargaining goals.

"Our lines of communication to management are open, have been and will continue to be," Allen said. As to the timing of negotiations, he said: "We haven't made that decision and when we do we'll make an appropriate announcement."

Allen would not discuss the petition on qualified voting, saying it was a matter for the board to decide.

The role of nonworking actors within SAG, and whether they exert too much influence, has long been a contentious issue within the union.

At SAG, any member in good standing can vote on the film and TV contract. Members qualify for membership if they have appeared in a principal or speaking role in a SAG film, video, television program or commercial. Also eligible are extras who have worked at least three days on a SAG-covered show in their lifetimes, and people who qualify to join through a sister union.

That has rankled many working actors, who complain that a majority of SAG's members consistently earn less than $1,000 per year.

"I believe that the Screen Actors Guild will be strengthened at the bargaining table if only those members who have a stake in bargaining are the ones voting," said actor Ned Vaughn, one of the organizers of the petition.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Another Zell shoe falls: KTLA's GM out

Vinnie Malcolm will be leaving the building at Channel 5. He may already be gone. Staffers aren't clear just how hard he was pushed, but the memo from new Sam Zell's new head of broadcasting says they both agreed it was time to go.


As you may know by now, Vinnie Malcolm has decided to resign as general manager of KTLA. When I joined the company last week he told me that this was something he’d been thinking about for some time; we both agreed the timing was right.

Vinnie’s been a part of KTLA for almost 15 years and has put in a great deal of effort and hard work here at the station. Please join me in wishing him well.

John Vitanovec, executive vice president/broadcasting will be assuming the general manager’s job on an interim basis as we look for a new GM. John will be here tomorrow and is looking forward to meeting all of you.

KTLA has a tremendous history and is one of the jewels of our broadcast group. There is real upside at the station and I know there are great things ahead.

Ed Wilson

Wilson is the former president of the Fox Television Network who came on to take charge of Tribune's TV empire under Zell. Malcolm, by the way, is the exec who axed Stephanie Edwards from the Rose Parade booth and who had the station exhaustively cover its star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as a bunch of other inside non-news. He's also apparently the one who blocked Channel 5 employees' access to LA Observed for a couple of years. My favorite Malcolm memo was the one where he told staffers to read his emails.

12:26 PM Tuesday, February 19 2008 • Link
More by tag: Sam Zell | Television

GM of Tribune's KTLA resigns

Vinnie Malcolm has resigned as vice president and general manager of Tribune Co.'s KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, Tribune Broadcasting President Ed Wilson said today.
John Vitanovec, who has served as Tribune Broadcasting executive vice president as well as general manager at Tribune's WGN-Ch. 9 in Chicago and former Tribune Co. station WLVI-TV in Boston, will replace Malcolm in Los Angeles on an interim basis while a permanent general manager is found.

Malcolm had been KTLA's general manager since March 2002, having joined the station as regional sales manager in 1994.

Tribune Co. owns the Chicago Tribune.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Hopeful Year for Unions

New York Times Editorial

By virtually every indicator, 2007 was a dismal year for American workers. Job growth slowed, unemployment jumped and wages lost what little ground they had gained against inflation since 2003. There is one sliver of good news: the percentage of American workers who belong to a union rose for the first time in three decades.

The Labor Department reported that the number of workers belonging to a union grew by 311,000 to 15.7 million. That means union members increased from 12 percent of the American work force in 2006 to 12.1 percent last year. In the private sector, unions’ share of workers inched ahead from 7.4 percent to 7.46 percent. While the rebound is tiny, and might yet prove to be a statistical mirage, it is the first recorded increase in organized labor’s ranks since the 1970s, when almost one in four workers belonged to a union.

There is little doubt that American workers need unions. Wages today are almost 10 percent lower than they were in 1973, after accounting for inflation. The share of national income devoted to workers’ wages and benefits is at its lowest since the late-1960s, while the share going to profits has surged. The decline in unionization has been a big part of the reason that workers have lost so much ground.

The future of organized labor is not cause for great optimism. Employers have become more aggressive about keeping unions out. Competitive pressures from globalization, deregulation and technological change have resulted in the loss of many union jobs.

Indeed, unionization rose last year partly because of the slow pace of job creation in nonunionized sectors of the labor market. The jump in unionization rates in the construction industry, for example, was partly attributed to the steep decline in residential construction, where there are fewer unions, while the more heavily unionized commercial construction sector remained strong.

Still, the uptick offers hope that the renewed emphasis on organizing workers by some of the nation’s largest unions — like the service employees’ union, the Teamsters and others that split off from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. to form the Change to Win coalition — might start paying dividends despite the difficult odds.

A bill that would have made it easier for unions to organize workers died in the Senate last June. Congress should take up this issue again to stop companies from using threats and other aggressive tactics to keep organized labor out, and to help win workers their rightful share of the economic pie.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Members of the Writers Guilds, East and West voted overwhelmingly to have the WGAE Council and WGAW Board lift the restraining order (the strike) and return to work.

The restraining order was lifted immediately upon the results of the vote and all WGA members will be returning to work effective immediately. WGA members, working under the MBA contract, must still vote to ratify the contract.

The ratification vote will take place by mail and in membership meetings on February 25, 2008.

PDF Versions of the 2008 MBA Contract Documents:

The Memorandum of Agreement for the 2008 WGA Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement

Reuse in New Media Sideletter

Strike Termination Agreement of 2008 (includes Return To Work language)

Download file: Strike Termination Agreement of 2008.pdf
Download file: Final W8 Reuse in New Media 2-12-08 (2).pdf
Download file: Final WGA-AMPTP Network MOA 2-11-08.pdf

And The Other Shoe Drops At Tribune

L.A. Times Will Eliminate "100-150 Positions," Job Cuts Across Tribune

The Los Angeles Times building.
Getty Images
The Los Angeles Times building.

As we documented this morning, there's a big divide over who should run the L.A. Times, and before Sam Zell and publisher David Hiller announce their choice, they're getting some dirty work out of the way: Job cuts are on the way.

Mr. Hiller writes that the paper will eliminate 100-150 positions at the Times, which includes ending open positions, and laying some off. Sam Zell writes in his own e-mail that he wants to add staff some day, but: "Unfortunately, I can't turn this ship from its course of the past 10 years within just a few months." Mr. Zell said there will be job cuts at all Tribune papers.

Here are their memos:


As you'veve just heard from Sam, we are going to be eliminating some jobs at our newspapers and at Tribune corporate. As Sam related, the revenue picture continues to be bad, and well worse than was forecast at the time our going private transaction was completed. We had been planning to find savings over the course of the year, primarily through eliminating positions as they became open, but these current trends require that we act sooner.

So we will be undertaking a combination of steps to reduce staffing across all departments -- including eliminating open positions, a Voluntary Separation Program for eligible employees, and a limited number of layoffs. All in all, we will be eliminating in the range of 100-150 positions across The Times.

We knew we were going to have to go down some in staffing this year, so if there is anything positive here it's that we are able to accommodate some of the reduction through a voluntary program, and we'll also get this done now and hopefully clear our focus for the year ahead. We will be getting detailed information on these plans to you by this coming Monday.

I wish the year were starting with a more positive revenue picture, but the whole industry is facing the same thing and we have to be realistic in dealing with the situation we are in.

I appreciate your understanding and support.



From: Talk to Sam
Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2008 8:17 AM
Subject: Reducing staff


As I have said repeatedly while on the employee road show, we will not achieve success by just cutting costs. Ultimately, our battle will be won by growing revenue, and by making Tribune Company a fierce competitor across all media channels print, broadcast and interactive.

I have also shared the reality of our significant debt levels and financial covenant obligations. These obligations require us to be more disciplined than ever with respect to managing our costs and maximizing the productivity of our assets and people. We need to constantly think and act like owners, and relentlessly strive to optimize the effectiveness of our businesses.

In my recent email about the ESOP, I outlined the assumptions we made in developing our projections for Tribune's financial performance going forward:

- Cash flow in line with that of 2007

- Newspaper revenues continuing to decline

- Broadcast and interactive revenues increasing.

While results so far in broadcasting and interactive are promising, we have not had time yet to realize these gains. Further, a weak economy and significant declines in advertising volume at our newspapers are putting downward pressure on our cash flow. These factors are forcing us to take immediate action, and are the basis for the sense of urgency you've heard me talk about so often.

It is within this context that I am announcing we must reduce the number of staff positions within the publishing group and corporate office through a combination of voluntary separation programs, involuntary layoffs, attrition and closing of open positions. Each of our newspapers is making its own decision about which programs best suit its needs.

Most of the affected positions are in support service areas, such as finance, HR and technology. We are creating a flatter organizational structure, eliminating layers of personnel that inadvertently created bureaucracy. The result will be a streamlined culture that accelerates our decision making, and enables us to act quickly.

I have discussed with many of you our mutual concern about the cyclical eroding of content quality to meet budgets manufactured in the corporate office. I promise you, in time, we will end that downward spiral. Right now, across the company, we're going through a zero-based budgeting process designed to let each business unit develop and be responsible for its own budget. This will make our financial planning and goals more realistic, allowing us to prioritize the work ahead and then staff accordingly.

Down the line we will likely be adding staff where there are opportunities for revenue growth. At the moment, we are still assessing the priorities and needs of our interactive and broadcasting groups.

Unfortunately, I can't turn this ship from its course of the past 10 years within just a few months. Further, while I will do everything in my power to drive, pull and drag this company forward, I can't promise we won't see additional position eliminations in the future, if we continue at our current rate of cash flow decline.

But, make no mistake. This is not my ultimate strategy for our company. I believe we can achieve greatness. I have staked my reputation on it.



Hi All,

Well, here come the layoffs. I'm guessing that consolidation, outsourcing, and layoffs at the TV stations are next. Oh well, would you like fries with that?


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tribune ESPP/ESOP Issue

Hi Sam,

Thanks for your prompt and clear response. Everything you say is absolutely true regarding what has occurred so far.

To recap: All components of compensation, including retirement and stock plans, for union represented employees are negotiated in collective bargaining. The ESPP participated in by IBEW represented Tribune employees ended in April 2007 right after the sale of the company was announced and the ESPP proceeds were paid out in December. The new ESOP started January 1, 2008. All true.

Where we disagree is as follows: You see these two things as unrelated, while I see them as joined together.

The IBEW negotiated the ESPP as part of our compensation package. There was no negotiation when the ESPP was taken away, thereby reducing my compensation without any input from my union. I feel that if we are not included in the ESOP without having to wait until the next contract negotiation, then we need to reopen negotiations on our current contract to discuss what we will get to replace the ESPP in our current compensation package.

By reopening negotiations now, we can address the ESPP/ESOP issue as well as other challenges like shared jurisdiction and workplace drug testing.

On a team player note, inclusiveness creates loyalty and increases productivity and profits. Including everyone in the ESOP is a gesture showing that Tribune's union represented employees are equal partners with your nonunion employees and yourself. This seems like the kind of smart investment that will pay serious dividends for the whole team.

There is no reason we can't get all the players; management; union reps and members; and nonunion employees, together as needed informally on a regular basis and discuss issues and challenges like the ESOP, shared jurisdiction, workplace drug testing, etc. If, in our union/management relationship, we can avoid grievances, Labor Board hearings, and arbitrations by meeting informally to work things out together in a collegiate atmosphere of mutual trust, this new Tribune Company can become a workplace and profit center we can all be proud to be a part of.


Bob D

Talk to Sam <> wrote:

Bob – The employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) was not replaced by the ESOP. I don’t know where you’re getting that. I’m told the ESPP ended in April 2007 right after the transaction was announced, and shares were paid out in December. The new ESOP is part of the new retirement program that just started Jan. 1, 2008 that all unions have to negotiate to participate in. It’s that simple. Sam

From: Robert Daraio []
Sent: Wednesday, January 09, 2008 11:34 PM
To: Talk to Sam
Subject: RE: Questions

Hi Sam,

Thanks for your kind response. I understand that as an IBEW Local 1212 represented video engineer at WPIX, all benefits are part of the compensation package negotiated in collective bargaining with the Company.

The Tribune Stock Purchase Plan was one of those benefits obtained for the IBEW represented Tribune employees through the collective bargaining process.

As part of your purchase of Tribune, our Stock Purchase Plan was liquidated at $34.00 per share and the proceeds sent to participating employees.

The Stock Purchase Plan was then replaced by the new Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

The IBEW Local 1212 represented employees were not included in this successor plan.

So, we lost a benefit that had been part of our compensation package through the prior collective bargaining process and in return got...nothing.

I'm still confused. I still don't own any of this place like I used to.

As for the rest of my Broadcast Division and WPIX specific questions, I look forward hearing what Randy has to share with us.

All the best,

Bob Daraio
video engineer

Talk to Sam <> wrote:
Our company decides, within the law, what work rules and what benefits it puts in place for non-union employees. When you elect to be represented by a union, then work rules and benefits are negotiated. I am not familiar with the terms of Newsday’s union contracts, but I’m sure that they are the result of a give-and-take negotiation. I’m sure this will be a point of discussion at the next round of negotiations. With regard to you specific questions about PIX, I don’t have any definitive answers yet. Randy will be out to meet with you soon to better assess your needs, and how we can maximize revenue at the station.

From: Robert Daraio []
Sent: Tuesday, December 25, 2007 5:52 PM
To: Talk to Sam
Subject: Questions

Dear Mr. Zell,

Welcome! I'm certainly glad to have you aboard. I do have some questions, thank you for providing all the members of your new team the opportunity to ask them directly.

I am an IBEW represented employee at WPIX. We were included in the old Employee Stock Purchase Plan as part of our compensation package under our collective bargaining agreement.

Under the new ownership this plan was taken from us and we were not included in the new ESOP.

I feel as if I've lost some of my compensation without it being replaced and without any negotiation, as this has occurred between contracts.

It makes me sad to see all the signs posted at work that say "You Own This Place Now", when I actually don't, some people do, but not me, and not any of the other IBEW members who used to be able to have an ownership stake in our company.

What are your plans for the TV stations? Are you keeping us? Are we for sale? If so, as a unit or as individual stations? Are we going to get seed money to expand local production opportunities?

Specific to WPIX, are we going to renew the lease on 42nd Street or are we moving? Will WPIX remain a major New York presence?

I know that's a lot of questions and you may not know the answers to all of them right now.

My grandfather always said "begin the way you mean to continue". Addressing the ESOP issue and questions about the future of the broadcasting unit would certainly be a great place to start.

This all is a huge undertaking. I wish you great success and pledge my full support to growing this business and keeping all the wonderful, talented, people I have the privilege of working with employed.

All the best,

Bob Daraio
Video Engineer

Chairman Sam: It was for your own good

Lame Excuses Are Not As Effective As A simple Apology, Sam.

Everyone makes mistakes. The last guy who was perfect was so annoying, he got nailed to a cross.

It's okay to mess up, but when you screw up, stand up. A simple "lost my temper, it happens sometimes, sorry about that" would have sufficed for me.

I'm still waiting for some action on the "no ESOP for Tribune's union members" issue and the lack of employee representation on the new Tribune board of directors to be addressed. These are challenges with substance. If Sam can do a better job of really including all his employees in his vision of the future, he can curse like a sailor all damn day and it will be just fine with me.

All the best,


Read Sam's latest below.

From LA Observed

Sam Zell apparently got enough feedback about his boorish (at best) remarks at the Times and Orlando Sentinel last week that he sent out a mea culpa this morning posing as a lesson from the master. Meanwhile, the publisher and editor of the Orlando Sentinel politely called BS on the new boss's explanation for dropping the f-bomb on a photographer.

First, the latest missive from Chairman Sam:


During my visits to our business units over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, and I’ve loved all of it. People have told me how excited they are for the future; how they are believers now, when they had given up hope; and how they’ve been waiting for this bus for a long, long time.

In some of these meetings, I used language that was deliberately outrageous. My goal was to shock you, to shake you out of complacency, and to help you understand that the game has changed, and we have to change with it. You may not like me or the way I say things, but I’m thrilled and delighted that for the first time, you may actually have an opinion about your CEO.

Nevertheless, it’s possible that, in the process, I may have violated Rule #1. Mea culpa.

You’ve heard Randy and I talk about taking calculated risks with limited downside, and I’ve applied that principle in my presentations. Overall, I’ve achieved my intended impact. The enormous buzz around our visits to the business units reaches well beyond our company. We’ve created an extraordinary level of interest and commentary. So I ask you, when was the last time the industry sat up to take notice of Tribune, or cared what we had to say? How long has it been since Tribune was seen as fresh or cutting edge?

Extremism in the pursuit of opportunity is not a vice. You’ve seen me step over the edge, if only to get you to take a few steps toward the line.


So he's glad the buzz around Tribune is that the boss is vulgar and possibly a buffoon, rather than anything about the product? Good luck with that. Meanwhile, Zell's explanation for saying fuck you to an Orlando Sentinel photog doesn't add up for at least two women who saw it go down — the publisher and the editor of the Sentinel. From the paper's public editor, via Romenesko:

Zell's spokeswoman, Terry Holt, told the Los Angeles Times -- like the Sentinel, part of Tribune Company -- last week that it was Fajardo's "sarcastic tone" and her turning her back on him as he was speaking, not her question, that prompted his vulgarism.

If that's what happened, it escaped Sentinel Publisher Kathy Waltz's notice. Seated next to Zell on the dais, she saw Fajardo "shaking her head, shrugging her shoulders and walking away. There was applause from the audience to Sam's response, which is why many of us did not hear Sam swear at her. That is also why it appeared to me that his response was over, and it did not appear to me that Sara left while Sam was still talking. Sam apparently saw it differently."

Waltz noted, "Much of Sam's answer was his view on being able to afford to do both 'soft' stories and serious, public-service journalism. All of that was appropriate, and I agree with that goal. The invective he used toward the employee was inappropriate in my view."

Editor Charlotte Hall had a similar view: "I feel the obscenity Sam directed at Sara was not appropriate, and I've never known Sara to be arrogant. . . .

Add the photographer, Sara Fajardo, to the list of those perplexed through the years by Zell's rough edges. "It was not my intention to offend him," she said. "I thought that he had finished his statement, and so I left the microphone so the next person could ask their question."

Regarding those strip club ads: I'm told it might be awhile before the Times actually runs any ads from what Zell calls "gentleman's clubs." Seems other advertisers let the paper know it's them or us.

11:41 AM Monday, February 11 2008 • Link
More by tag: Los Angeles Times | Sam Zell

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

After the Writers’ Strike

Published: February 11, 2008

LOS ANGELES — It is not quite peace that has broken out here in Hollywood. But emotions are finally settling down in the entertainment industry’s bubbling cauldron of labor disputes. This calm holds the promise of three years without strike threats, picket lines and the loss of Americans’ favorite television shows.

Axel Koester for The New York Times Picket signs take a rest as the Writers Guild calls for an end to its strike.

The tentative deal officially announced early Saturday morning between striking writers and Hollywood studios, networks and production companies — all but ending a three-month-old strike — has already made the threat of an actors’ strike this summer less likely. By Saturday afternoon, a pair of warring actors’ unions were trying to make amends with each other and prepare for joint contract negotiations that could suddenly prove smoother than most had dared predict a few days earlier.

Movie and television writers will almost certainly be back at work on Wednesday, pending the results of a Tuesday vote, in person or by faxed proxy, on whether to lift the strike. On Sunday, the governing boards of Writers Guild of America leaders unanimously approved the provisional deal with production companies, making approval by members likely.

“There comes a time in any strike when it is time to settle, and that time is when the pressure is greatest on both sides,” David J. Young, executive director of the Writers Guild of America West, said at a news conference Sunday at the guild’s headquarters here.

Mr. Young spoke of “huge victories” for screenwriters. He particularly cited a provision — to take effect in the third year of the contract — that calls for writers to get a percentage of revenue instead of a fixed fee for the streaming of entertainment on the Internet. Just how robust the digital media business will become remains a question, but the writers believed they needed to stake their claim now. And they wanted to avoid repeating a mistake they made some 20 years ago in agreeing to what they view as too small a piece from the sale and rental of videos and, ultimately, DVDs.

“That was the final critical issue, and producers ultimately moved on it,” Mr. Young said in an interview after the news conference. “It establishes the precedent that we wanted established.”

Not incidentally, the prospect of a writers’ settlement has already changed a complicated power equation that has kept a strike-weary business on edge about a possible walkout by perhaps 150,000 actors when their own contract expires, on June 30. With writers pointed back to work and directors having settled their new contract weeks ago, the actors would stand alone if they pressed for gains larger than those just achieved by their colleagues, especially in the contentious area of new media.

The Screen Actors Guild, which had been a staunch ally of striking writers, sharply changed directions on Saturday and tried to make peace with the more accommodating American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The actors’ guild, with some 120,000 members, decided to drop a referendum and board resolution that would have increased its muscle on the customary joint negotiating committee it shares with the federation. The federation has about 70,000 members, more than half of whom are also in the guild.

The actors’ guild, which covers the movie industry and much television series production, has argued that its higher earnings entitled it to more bargaining power, and it was pursuing a block voting mechanism that would have solidified its power within the committee. The federation, which covers some prime-time television series, has for decades done its series and commercials bargaining in tandem with the actors’ guild. (Game shows, soap operas, and news broadcasts are dealt with in a separate negotiation.)

Rather than accede to the Screen Actors Guild’s changes within the committee, the federation had prepared to open television series talks with producers on its own in March. But the guild, after an emergency board meeting on Saturday, scratched its block voting idea and declared its desire to join the federation in talks with producers. The guild had earlier indicated it wanted to put off any negotiations until closer to its June deadline.

Reconciliation is not a given. “They need to give us some clarity on what it is they’ve actually done,” said Roberta Reardon, president of the federation, in a telephone interview Sunday.

Ms. Reardon’s union has been pressed by members to resolve Hollywood’s uncertainty by getting to the bargaining table. But its own set of successive negotiations has been postponed for months in deference to the writers and directors.

If the actors’ guild, known for its aggressive posture in talks, were to remain linked to the federation, which is widely viewed as being more pragmatic, the likelihood of an actors’ strike in June would almost certainly diminish. Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, the federation’s national executive director, has made clear that settlements with directors and writers can point the way toward relatively normal, and strike-free, negotiations for actors.

“I won’t call it a solution, but it’s a road map to a solution,” Ms. Hedgpeth said Sunday of the more generous new-media compensation approach that has emerged in the writers’ and directors’ settlements.

A spokeswoman for the Screen Actors Guild declined to comment on the union’s negotiating plans. She said her union planned to review the writers’ deal closely in coming days.

As to whether peace would prove contagious, especially where the actors are concerned, Hollywood’s sophisticates remained wary. “I would say the odds, if I were a betting man, are more toward settlement than not,” said Eric Weissmann, a veteran entertainment lawyer. But, he added, “Who knows?”

Among movie studios, the threat of an actors’ strike has already caused far more disruption than the reality of the writers’ walkout. For months, studios have been hustling to finish their feature films by early June. Indeed, while television production fell, feature film production in Los Angeles actually rose during the writers’ strike. Movie companies have been stockpiling against the possibility of what the filmmaker Terry George, speaking to writers in their New York assembly on Saturday, called “nuclear winter” — a prolonged shutdown and merged strike between actors and writers.

But there was enough sweetness and light in the air by Sunday afternoon to make the prospect of more conflict seem remote. One top executive, still too skittish to speak for the record at a time when writers were voting on their return, said his lesson from the last few months’ labor stand-off was, “People should talk to each other.”

Even Patric M. Verrone, the strike-hardened president of the West Coast writers’ guild, was joking about the joys of returning to the grind. “Writers can be back at work on Wednesday,” Mr. Verrone told the assembled media crowd at his news conference, even as his recorded voice was going out to writers on robocalls, talking up the deal and describing the vote. “Or even Tuesday night if they want to go to the office really, really late.”

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I went to each candidate's website and pulled their Labor Issue positions to post here. Then I Googled each candidate's name and read all the info about their position on labor. Not surprisingly, the Democrats fared better than the Republicans in this regard, with Obama having the only comprehensive pro-union plan. Take a look, visit their sites, come back and comment.

All the best,



Obama will strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions. He will fight for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Obama will ensure that his labor appointees support workers' rights and will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers. Obama will also increase the minimum wage and index it to inflation to ensure it rises every year.

  • Ensure Freedom to Unionize: Obama believes that workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation from their employers. Obama cosponsored and is strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize. He will continue to fight for EFCA's passage and sign it into law.
  • Fight Attacks on Workers' Right to Organize: Obama has fought the Bush National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) efforts to strip workers of their right to organize. He is a cosponsor of legislation to overturn the NLRB's "Kentucky River" decisions classifying hundreds of thousands of nurses, construction, and professional workers as "supervisors" who are not protected by federal labor laws.
  • Protect Striking Workers: Obama supports the right of workers to bargain collectively and strike if necessary. He will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their livelihoods.
  • Raise the Minimum Wage: Barack Obama will raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs.


Empower our workers and ensure that all Americans contribute their fair share. Hillary will ensure that unions, which have played an important role in forming and sustaining the middle class, are strong. She will also ensure that trade policies work for average Americans. Trade policy must raise our standard of living, and they must have strong protections for workers and the environment. Hillary will:
  • Pass the Employee Free Choice Act so that unions can organize for fair wages and safe working conditions.
  • Appoint a trade enforcement officer within the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and double the size of USTR’s enforcement unit.
  • Overhaul the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program to ensure that workers who have lost jobs because of global competition get the support they need.
  • TAA provides job training, income support, a health care tax credit, and job placement assistance. Hillary will modernize the program to ensure that it is truly helping workers hurt by global trade. First, she will extend TAA benefits to service workers. Today, workers who produce a service rather than a product are ineligible for TAA, leaving everyone from call-center operators to radiologists, without assistance.
  • Second, Hillary will broaden TAA to cover all workers whose plants have moved abroad. Workers are currently ineligible for TAA if their plants relocated to countries with which we have not signed free trade or trade preferences agreements. This outdated rule means that when plants shift from America to low-wage countries like India and China, laid-off workers are ineligible for TAA. Third, Hillary will double funding for TAA’s job training program to $440 million.


Trade and Displaced Workers

  • Lowering Barriers to Trade: John McCain believes that globalization is an opportunity for American workers today and in the future. Ninety-five percent of the world's customers lie outside our borders and we need to be at the table when the rules for access to those markets are written. To do so, the U.S. should engage in multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts to reduce barriers to trade, level the global playing field and build effective enforcement of global trading rules.
  • Competitive American Workers: John McCain understands that globalization will not automatically benefit every American. We must prepare the next generation of workers by making American education worthy of the promise we make to our children and ourselves. We must be a nation committed to competitiveness and opportunity. We must fight for the ability of all students to have access to any school of demonstrated excellence. We must place parents and children at the center of the education process, empowering parents by greatly expanding the ability of parents to choose among schools for their children.
  • John McCain will overhaul unemployment insurance and make it a program for retraining, relocating and assisting workers who have lost a job. The unemployment insurance system needs to be modernized to meet the goals of helping displaced workers make ends meet between jobs and moving people quickly on to the next opportunity. John McCain will reform the half-dozen training programs to approaches that can be used to meet the bills, pay for training, and get back to work. John McCain believes that we can strengthen community colleges and technical training, and give displaced workers more choices to find their way back to productive and prosperous lives.


  • I believe in free trade, but it has to be fair trade.
  • Globalization, done right, done fairly, can be the equivalent of a big pay raise by allowing us to buy things more cheaply.