Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Senate Confirms Hilda Solis as Labor Secretary

Hilda Solis is the new Secretary of labor!

After Republicans backed away from an expected filibuster and agreed to stop their weeks of delaying tactics, the Senate this afternoon approved Solis’s nomination by an 80-17 vote.

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to get this done.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said "The confirmation of Rep. Hilda Solis is a huge victory: Finally, Americans will have a secretary of labor who represents working people, not wealthy CEO’s. It is also a historic moment as Rep. Solis becomes the first Hispanic Secretary of Labor. The delay of Rep. Solis’s nomination for partisan and ideological reasons was overcome by the grassroots support of millions of Americans who are struggling and desperately need a secretary of labor who will be their voice."

After a scheduled Feb. 12 vote was postponed because of Republican objections, the union movement created a Facebook page, "Americans for Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor" to build some e-roots support for Solis. Nearly 2,000 people signed on.

Read the full text of Mike Hall's article about the Solis confirmation on the AFL/CIO Blog at:

Thank you all again for your hard work and support.

Bob Daraio

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Just Say “No” to Layoffs—CEO Patriot Pledge

By Bob Rosner

How can we stop the layoffs?

These are M.A.D. economic times. That's M.A.D. as in Mutually Assured Destruction, the old Cold War strategy in which no one would be left standing after that first nuke was launched. Economic experts, who agree on little else, agree on this: If our current vicious cycle of "layoffs driving down purchasing, which increases layoffs" continues, no one will be left standing.

There is an exit strategy here that no one is talking about: billions of dollars that could be used to address the layoff cycle immediately. This is not a plea for legislation or government funds. In fact, not a penny would come from taxpayers. It's simple, voluntary and, dare I say, patriotic. The "Chief Executive Officer Patriot Pledge" (see below) is 95-word call to action for all corporate leaders, not just those in financial services, to reign in their own wretched excesses and voluntarily reinvest part of their lofty salaries and perks to keep employees on the payroll.

Entitlement and greed are the only words I can find to describe $18 billion in bonuses given during the last two months of 2008, at the same time a million people were being laid off (including at these very firms that were giving bonuses to a select few).

Who paid the bill that allowed these corporations to party?

U.S. taxpayers, courtesy of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's inability to ask for any accountability from the corporations receiving $350 billion in TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) funds.

Who knew the "free market" could be so expensive?

Heck of a job, Paulie!

Some will scream "socialism," but socialism isn't voluntary. The CEO Patriot Pledge is pure capitalism, rewarding people when they do well and refusing to grossly enrich failure any longer. I'm not begrudging anybody for achieving success, just asking for a bonus system tied to real achievement. How do we define excessive executive compensation? And how much money are we really talking about?

The Corporate Library, a research firm, examined the paychecks of CEOs of the Russell 3,000 (the 3,000 largest U.S. companies based on market capitalization) and calculated these executives were overpaid by $14.7 billion annually. This does not include the huge paychecks of chief operating officers, chief executive officers, etc. It also doesn't include tens of thousands of executives at smaller firms. I estimate that billions could be found to reduce layoffs just from excessive executive pay.

Of course, some executives consider themselves worthy of large compensation, no matter how disproportionate or unwarranted. Just ask John Thain, former CEO of Merrill Lynch, who, in a recent interview, told CNBC that it was important, even in troubled times, to give top talent over-the-top paychecks. If these top executives, at Merrill Lynch and thousands of other firms, are so talented, then how did we end up with 626,000 new unemployment claims filed just last week, with half of our 401(k)s gone, and with, my personal favorite, a $35,000 executive commode funded from the public trough?

Fortunately, there are some executives who get it -- for example, Thomas A. James, CEO of Raymond James. Sound familiar? They are the sponsors of the stadium of the most recent Super Bowl. Raymond James had almost $3 billion in revenue last year.

Yet Tom James' guaranteed base salary was only $325,000, less than 20 times the amount of the lowest-paid worker at his company.

Compare that with the average CEO salary, which is 262 times that of the lowest-paid worker. (For every "average" salaried CEO who cuts back his or her base salary to a ratio of even 40 times the salary of the lowest-paid worker, almost 200 workers would keep their jobs.)

While the S&P 500 sank, Raymond James had a positive return for its investors. With the bonus he earned, Tom James' total compensation was slightly more than $3 million. But the key word here is "earned." It is no accident that Raymond James has a conservative compensation philosophy and the company also did well despite the carnage in the rest of the market.

Compare Tom James to Robert Iger, CEO of Disney. According to compensation guru Graef Crystal, Iger received $51 million during a year when his company suffered losses and layoffs.

This is how it should be: a CEO with a relatively low guaranteed salary and a bigger upside if the company performs for both its investors and employees. More independence is also needed at the board-of-directors level, so CEO pay decisions aren't "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine." Finally, we need to clone Tom James to help create leaders who don't view pay for performance as an escalator that only goes up for their benefit.

What is the CEO Patriot Pledge? It's a plea to encourage American businesses to do what they have always done: lead the way with vision and creativity. Only this time, the goal is not to just create a profit, but to keep people employed so there will be a market for our products and services.

In short, our turbulent times require a reversal of a famous quote. Today, "what is good for the country is good for G.M."


"As an executive, my primary motivation is to act for the good of my company, not just my own financial gain. No one at our company will earn a guaranteed base salary more than 40 times of our lowest-paid worker, and we will offer the same health care and 401(k) matches to employees as we do for executives. We support pay for performance, so when our company's performance serves investors and employees, we'll share in the gains. When our company's performance does not adequately serve our investors and employees, we'll share in the sacrifice."

You can call this initiative naive, but remember that a similar pledge, the Sullivan Principles, played a key role in ending apartheid in South Africa. Greed isn't good: It's a symptom of poor impulse control and leads us down the path to more Lehman Brothers-style-implosions. My single voice can be dismissed easily, but all of our voices can't.

Put the pledge on the bulletin boards of your company, send it to the companies that you own stock in, and ask your friends and colleagues to do the same.

Also pass on the link to the "CEO Patriot Pledge" video on YouTube at:

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist and contributor to On The Money. He has been called “Dilbert with a solution.”

Check out the free resources available at

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Facts about the New IA Contract

From: President Steven Poster
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
Local 600 IATSE

Dear Member:

I am emailing you "Facts about the New IA Contract" because it contains the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the proposed Basic Agreement that members have brought to Local 600 and other IATSE Locals in the bargaining unit. There have been a lot of rumors and misinformation about the proposed contract and this document should answer most of these questions. Your Guild Officers and staff continue to welcome any additional questions you may have about this contract.

I truly believe that every member who is eligible to vote on the proposed Basic Agreement should have the opportunity to examine all of the facts before casting his/her Local 600 ballot.

Please review these FAQs and please vote on the contract.


Steven Poster

Facts about the New I.A. Contract

Why did the IATSE negotiate early?

There are several reasons for this strategy. First and foremost is the fact that early negotiations promote industry stability and prevent work slowdowns and stoppages.

There is value to the producers in being able to plan and budget past July and we use that value to our benefit.

As the economy continued to weaken, the pressures on the economics of the agreement continued to change to the unions' detriment (company financial losses, layoffs, cutting production slates etc...). The financial packages that we were able to achieve based upon negotiations that started in April and concluded in November 2008 are unlikely to be achievable in July 2009.

Who negotiated this contract on behalf of the Union?

The bargaining committee was led by International President Matt Loeb and consisted of International officers and representatives, Local Union officers and committee members from each of the 15 West Coast Studio Local Unions. There were roughly 75 people on the bargaining committee. This committee was supported by staff and hired professionals including actuaries, lawyers, health care consultants, and pension consultants.

What are some of the gains achieved in this contract?

There are many. We were able to prevent the employers from attacking any of the conditions of the Local Union agreements. This means no changes to staffing, no reductions to overtime or meal penalties or any other conditions in the Local contracts.

There was much more to be lost in Local negotiations than there was to be gained.

A three year contract (through July of 2012) at a time when the economy is in free fall and no one knows when it will stop falling and begin to recover.

Wage increases of 3% per year which far exceed the current cost of living and inflation figures. Inflation for the last year was .1% (yes, 1/10th of 1%) according to the LA Times and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This contract puts real money in member's pockets at a time when the credit collapse and economic downturn are hitting everyone.

Retirees will continue to receive their 13th and 14th checks for the duration of this agreement. These are checks that retirees have come to count on and for the first time, in this agreement, the payment of these checks is not tied to the reserves in the health plan. These checks are negotiated AND WILL BE PAID.

New employer contributions to the health plan that will equal $200 million dollars. (This is over and above the wage increases.)

A pension funding plan that continues to insure the safety of the pensions and complies with stringent new government imposed regulations.Jurisdiction in New Media consistent with the contracts with the DGA, AFTRA and the WGA, who went on strike for well over 3 months.

What about the Health plan?

NEW and additional employer payments to the plan of approximately $200 million. This includes an increase of 35 cents per hour (roughly 1% of avg. wage) in each year and other additional employer contributions during the contract.

There are no employee co-pays for premiums. The MPIPHP is one of very few plans with no premium co-pays and the only one of the Hollywood entertainment unions with no premium co-pays.

There are changes to the health plan that are designed to cut costs and make better consumers of all plan participants. These include things like staying in network, utilizing the M.P.T.F. clinics and doctors and the MEDCO prescription drug plan.

These changes do not discount or offset the $200 million in negotiated gains. They reduce the shortfall to maintain meaningful benefits.

Over the next contract, the MPIPHP will spend down its reserves by over 50%. The plan reserves are basically its savings, a rainy day fund. We are spending this money to insure that all options are expended before the participants are impacted. None of this money goes to the producers. It is spent to reduce the shortfall.

The health plan eligibility will remain unchanged until August 1, 2011. After that a participant will need 400 hours in any 6 month qualifying period to maintain their eligibility. The "bank of hours" may still be used.

Why 400 hours and why now?

hy The 400 hours issue was one of the most difficult and debated issues of these negotiations. As other health plans have increased eligibility requirements over the last several contracts, the IATSE has resisted this and been successful in fending this off.

This was done now, to go in effect in August of 2011 in order to allow for plenty of time and notice to the impacted participants.

As health care costs in the U.S. continue to climb at a rate of 9-11% annually, the cost of benefits increase at a compounded rate. The MPIPHP spends roughly $500 million per year on health care today.

What does this really mean for our work hours?

400 hours per 6 month period is less than 16 hours per week.

400 hours per period is less than 7 work weeks at 60 hours per week.

400 hours at $35.00 per hour is roughly $14,000 in earnings, assuming no overtime or premium pay. The health plan spends up to $19,100 per year for family coverage.

The vast majority of current participants will not be impacted by this.

So do we need a third more work to keep healthcare?

No. Over 90% of the participants will not need to increase their work hours at all because they work over 400 hours each period. The percentage of new work decreases the closer you get to 400. For example, a person that works 350 hours (and has no bank) will need less than 15% new work to maintain their healthcare. For those working less than 400 hours after Aug.1, 2011, they are able to use their bank of hours to make up the difference until they can increase their work hours.

Do those affected have a bank of hours?

Yes. The average participant that will be impacted in 2011 will have a bank of over 400 hours to help them through.

Why didn't the bank of hours increase?

Remember that in the 2000 agreement the bank of hours was increased from 300 to 450 without any changes to the eligibility. In addition, increasing the bank would increase the costs to the plans.

What happens to the "extra" hours over 400?

Once a participant exceeds the number of hours to qualify and their bank of hours is full, that money goes into the plan to subsidize all of the participants. Obviously, the producers pay more money into the plan for those that work more and that helps to subsidize those that work less.

Why is there no "self pay" provision to the plan?

There is. It is called COBRA and is available for 18 months after a person has exhausted their eligibility and bank of hours.

Why can't we "buy hours" to get to 400?

Because the actual costs of the health plan (up to $19,000 for a family) are subsidized by those that work the most and by residuals. Buying hours at this subsidy would place a larger burden on the plan and possibly require an even higher eligibility threshold.

Is this because of bad investments?

No. The professionals that manage the MPIPHP investments are some of the best in the business. While our plans took a hit in 2008 they still outperformed almost all other plans and are in the top 1% of plans for the last 3, 5 and 10 year period. The pension plan over the last 20 years has returned over 8% and this investment income is necessary to keep up with the increasing costs of funding our health and pension benefits.

How bad was the hit?

The pension was down roughly 21%, the IAP was down 15 ½ % and the health plans lost about 6% on their investments. The major markets were down 40 %. Our investments are very conservatively invested and MPI plan actuaries and advisors tell us that over time we will continue to earn 8%.

This investment environment does have an impact on our plans today and recent pension legislation requires the MPIPHP to fund the pension differently than in the past. Because of the way our benefits are funded this causes a greater shortfall in the health plan.

What can we do to help those that need it?

We are in a unique industry. IATSE members often find themselves in a position to influence hiring decisions. If we call our jobs into the local and encourage all members to call in their jobs, union and non-union we will be in a better position to help our brothers and sisters find that extra days work to help them qualify.

The International and Local Unions are developing methods to identify and help members that are in need of hours to qualify.

We can also help everyone in the plans by becoming the best and most efficient users of the health plan. By staying in network, using MEDCO and watching our health plan dollars we can keep costs down.

What did we get in "New Media"?

We got the most important part of "New Media" - jurisdiction. We were able to secure the jurisdiction of "New Media" as part of this agreement.

The other essential gain is the right to audit employer records (unedited), to determine the extent and means to which money is flowing in the emerging new media business. This will allow us to prepare for future negotiations.

How does our new media deal compare?

Our "New Media" deal is the same as the deal made by the DGA, AFTRA and the WGA. This deal comes on the heels of an industry strike, during a terrible employment climate and after the DGA, WGA and AFTRA have agreed to similar provisions

This includes substantial residual increases in EST (Electronic Sell Through) that will continue to provide money into the pension and health plans as DVDs are replaced with downloads.
What about Staffing and Interchange and all the other contract items?

Most of the provisions for "New Media" will be freely negotiable, except for Benefits and a few others.


First, these are the same provisions that were negotiated by the other Unions and Guilds that went before us. These are also the provisions that are on the table for SAG.

Second, the priority was securing this jurisdiction for the IATSE members so that when our employers create professional commercial content that work is done by IATSE members.

At present, much of this work is non-professional and semi-professional. As this business model continues to expand and grow we will continue to expand and grow with it. There are provisions in this agreement that will allow our professionals to inspect the books and records of our employers in the area of "New Media" to further understand and anticipate the impact of "New Media" going forward. This will also insure compliance with our new agreement.

It is also important that the producers and Studios are involved in the business of New Media. Companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and almost every videogame producer are not part of our contracts, don't pay union wages and benefits and are non-union. If our employers are not in this business, we won't be either.

What is the "Sunset Clause" that applies to "New Media?

This sunset clause provides that the IA and the employers will completely renegotiate ALL of the "New Media" terms in the next agreement, not just individual pieces. This will give the IA and all of the locals an opportunity to see what the actual impact is on the members and negotiate accordingly.

When do we get to vote on the proposed contract?

The memorandum of agreement is being reviewed and finalized right now. It is anticipated that the ballots and contract will be out during the last 2 weeks of February.

Will we get a copy of the deal?

Yes, each member will receive a memorandum of agreement that will contain all of the details of the new contract, along with a ballot and voting instructions.

Why don't we just go back to the table?

It's not that easy. Sure, if the producers wanted to they could elect to go back to the table. This would happen only under the threat of a strike. They would expect to get something from the Union, particularly since the economy has continued to collapse and unemployment is rampant. We would lose the advantage described earlier of having started in April, 2008 in vastly better economic conditions.

If the employers called the IA and said "we changed our minds, the economy is tough and we want to go back to the table and get back some of the gains you achieved" what would our response be? The answer would be "no - if we are going back we want more - not less."

Remember, the employers will see returning to the table as an OPPORTUNITY to adjust the agreement to suit CURRENT economic conditions.

SAG has been trying to get back to the table since their contract expired June 30, 2008 - over 7 months. The employers have remained unwilling to improve upon the basic package achieved by the other Guilds and in our proposed agreement.

If there is no new contract, no new money will flow into the plans causing further damage to the health plan.

Do I even need to vote?

The answer is YES!

The vote is determined by the number of ballots that are returned. So if you don't vote you're not counted.

Historically, the membership returns less than a third of the ballots that are sent out. That means that 2/3 of the membership are turning over the decision making regarding this contract to less than 1/3 of the members.

Is a no vote a strike vote?

Yes. If you elect to vote no, you will be electing to authorize a strike.

What is the recommendation of the Committee?



Note: A lot of our members are extremely unhappy with this contract. There is an organized campaign to get the membership to vote NO. I have great respect for these members and their actions are in the best tradition of union democracy.

That being said, it is my personal opinion that while this offer is indeed a bitter pill, going back to the bargaining table will only result is an even worse offer. Such is the economic reality of the times we live in.

Our leadership gave their best efforts on our behalf. We need to trust the people we elected to represent us and vote YES.

We all need to tighten our financial belts, continue to improve both our technical and marketing skills, and move forward together.


Bob Daraio

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Health Care Workers Protest as Silver Screen Seniors Face Eviction

Keith Olbermann gave the The Motion Picture Television Health Plan director David Tillman the title of "Worse" person in the world last night. 300 SEIU UHW members provide care at the facilities under threat of closure. SEIU members have protested the possible closures. As usual, Olbermann gives a great summary of the issue and what is at stake.


Among the 150 participants in the Weds. dusk vigil by UHW workers, resident family members, actors, and clergy at the Motion Picture and Television Fund long term care facility is Melanie Wilson. She is daughter of the television character Mr. Whipple, who called the facility home for many years.

"The fight to keep this residence open and preserve these jobs is a fight for morality over greed and for compassion over cruelty," she told the crowd, underscoring a moving report on ongoing negotiations by worker Myra Torres.

The event concluded and many assembled press departed just as drizzle began.

Watch the NBC Los Angeles report on the protest.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Expectations Low for CBS' Earnings (LAT)

CBS today reports quarterly results, and Wall Street is bracing for grim numbers -- and looking for the company to outline a strategy for how it will navigate the choppy waters ahead. A rapidly deteriorating economy is making it difficult for CBS to capitalize on its resurgence in prime time.

A rapidly deteriorating economy is making it difficult for CBS to capitalize on its resurgence in prime time, where viewership is up 6% over last season, a notable achievement at a time when network TV is experiencing an audience exodus. In addition to "The Mentalist," the network has notched gains for sitcoms "Two and a Half Men" and " How I Met Your Mother," the Navy forensic drama "NCIS" and the news magazine " 60 Minutes."

The nose dive in TV and radio ads is hitting the company on the balance sheet. Last fall CBS took a $14-billion write-down to reflect the diminished value of its broadcasting assets and billboards. Since then, the economy has eroded further. CBS' Internet play -- spending $1.8 billion to buy technology news operation CNet Networks Inc. -- is widely considered an ill-timed investment in the wake of a massive retrenchment in online advertising."They overpaid for it," said longtime media investor Harold Vogel. "I wouldn't be surprised if they had to take another write-down."

Then there is the issue of CBS' generous dividend. Vogel and other analysts are watching to see whether CBS reduces the payment. The company currently issues more than $725 million a year in dividends to shareholders, which it has done to attract investors. That is money that CBS desperately needs for other purposes."In this environment, cash is the most important asset that you can have," Vogel said.

Last week Standard & Poor's downgraded CBS' credit outlook to negative from stable, citing the "extremely weak recent results and lowered guidance" issued by other media companies.

In addition, S&P noted, CBS' cash position is at its "lowest point" since the company split from Viacom Inc. in December 2005. On Sept. 30, the end of the most recent reporting period, CBS had $553 million in cash.

Some analysts have further suggested that CBS could face a cash crunch and a problem meeting a $1.6-billion debt repayment due in 2010.

"Local ad trends continue to shock us with unimaginable rates of decline," Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Michael Nathanson wrote in a recent report.

Martin Pyykkonen, media analyst with Wunderlich Securities, said CBS could save more than $300 million this year by cutting its dividend 50%. "Even if they cut the dividend in half, that would still be a 10% yield, which by any measure is still high," he said. "

As the controlling shareholder, Redstone carries a pretty big stick. But you would have to question the prudence of management if they keep paying out such a large dividend.

Bernstein analyst Nathanson predicted that TV revenue for CBS could decline 10% in the fourth quarter as the weak local advertising market will more than offset the benefit of broadcast station political advertising. He also estimated that revenue to the stations could fall as much as 17%.

Radio trends are also on the slide. Nathanson predicted that CBS radio revenue would decline 22%.

Salary Freeze At Tribune Company

By Bob Norman
The Daily Pulp

The Tribune Co., whose 10 newspapers include the Sun-Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and Los Angeles Times, and whose 23 TV stations include WPIX, WGN, and KTLA, yesterday announced a salary freeze for 2009. It affects all non-union employees (for the small percentage of union employees, "the issue will be addressed in collective bargaining"). Tribune chief administrative officer Gerry Spector writes in his email that he hopes the change will "allow us to avert more drastic action in the future."
Here's the email:

-----Original Message-----From: Tribune Communications []Sent: Monday, February 16, 2009 12:59 PMSubject: Message from Gerry Spector/2009 Salary Freeze

As you know, this year is off to a difficult start--not only for us, but for our peers in the media industry and for much of the business world as well. The advertising environment is very difficult. The economy is, at best, challenging. Across the country, businesses are cutting jobs, furloughing employees and freezing pay. Some of our major advertising clients, like General Motors, have laid off thousands of employees; others, like Circuit City, have been forced to liquidate assets and go out of business. Obviously, developments like these put significant downward pressure on our revenue.

As a company, we're fighting back like never before--developing new products, operating extremely efficiently, and re-examining everything we do with an eye toward maximizing our cash flow. However, given current trends and the likelihood that it will take some time for the economy to recover, we have to do even more.

For that reason, we've decided to implement a salary freeze for non-union employees in 2009. For those employees represented by a union, the issue will be addressed in collective bargaining.

I know this is difficult and I appreciate your understanding. Compensation is our largest expense and a salary freeze enables us to share the sacrifice. Hopefully, freezing salaries now will allow us to avert more drastic action in the future.

Thank you again for all your efforts.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Time Has Told… The Era of the One Person Crew Is Upon Us

WPIX has gone to the "One Man Band" (OMB) ENG crew. This is a trend that has swept through TV stations across the country as management continues to cut operating costs to the bone in response declining ad revenue.

Mark Joyella, a former reporter at WNYW, recently started blogging at and has been writing a lot about the move to one-man-bands.

Here is one of his stories.


Time Has Told… The Era of the One Person Crew Is Upon Us

It’s always educational to take a step back, turn around, and look at where we’ve been. It helps to see where we’ve come from, and how we’ve gotten to this place. In thinking about the spread of–call ‘em what you will, one man bands, all-platform journalists, multimedia journalists, backpack journalists–single person crews, I looked back at the debut of the form, if you will. The early reactions to the off-Broadway version of the show that’s now getting decidedly mixed reviews, but somehow selling lots and lots of tickets to news managers and corporate suits looking to find a way–any way–to cut costs and keep the profit in local news.

The first station group to go “VJ,” as they called it, was Young Broadcasting, which put cameras on reporters’ shoulders at WKRN/Nashville and KRON/San Francisco, copying a news-on-the-cheap model that had seen success elsewhere, notably at outfits like New York’s local cable newser, NY1. Variety wrote about the “Crew Cut in News Biz” in 2005, quoting a WKRN anchor: “It’s like they took the rules here and hucked them out the window.”

A lot of rules have gone out that window, especially lately. In addition to the expansion of one man banding to stations like WUSA/DC and WNBC/NYC, WGNX/Atlanta news director Steve Schwaid recently updated his Facebook profile to read: ”Steve is looking for one person bands - send dvds to me at CBS Atlanta.” The whole stations, he says, won’t be going OPB; he says “there will always need to be some working in teams and some can work by themselves…back to the future - we worked like this when I worked at whio in the late 70s.”

The mere suggestion of one person field crews drew fire on Facebook, with one person commenting on Schwaid’s profile page, “Nice BS-ing around the reality. One person does 2 times the work for less pay. That is the reality.” Schwaid responded: ”hey, the reality is the business model as we know it is dramatically changing…so you can be working for the last company that made the buggy whips or looking ahead…I prefer looking ahead.”

Is KPIX Next?

And he’s clearly not the only one looking ahead and seeing lots more reporters with cameras on their shoulders (or photographers reporting, however you want to look at it). Word is KPIX/San Francisco is bringing the one person crew into the mix, and some say it will soon show at NBC O&O’s like WRC/DC, and WMAQ/Chicago as they undergo the “Content Center” transformation. (So, in DC, you’d have a Content Center competing against an Information Center?)

Is there any way to argue now that this isn’t happening and won’t keep spreading? Did naysayers suggest the three-person crew would never end? (before my time) And what, pray tell, is the union strategy in all of this?

As the Nashville anchor said waaaaaaay back in ‘05 (remember the good old days, when we didn’t fear for our jobs every minute of every day?), the rules, they’re getting “hucked” out the window.

standupkid’s localtvnews

Friday, February 13, 2009

Viacom Profit Falls 69 Percent

Associated Press

Viacom Inc., the media conglomerate controlled by Sumner Redstone, said Thursday its fourth-quarter profit fell 69 percent as the recession hurt advertising, home entertainment, and video game revenue, and it recorded $454 million in charges. Shares rose 66 cents, or 4.2 percent, to close at $16.29 Thursday. Marketwatch: The first priority at Viacom must be to fix MTV's image, writes Jon Friedman. NYP: Redstone said National Amusements is moving closer to refinancing $1.6 billion in debt.

Read more: Viacom Profit Falls 69 Percent (AP)

Saturday Morning Network News Shows Growth


While we've been telling you about the growth of the network evening newscasts in 2009, there's also news on the Saturday morning front.

Once home to cartoons, the big three networks each produce one to two hours of morning news on Saturday. Weekend Today has been around the longest, since 1992; CBS has had a Saturday morning show since 1997 (first called CBS Saturday morning, now matching the weekday's The Early Show). NBC and CBS produce two hours in the morning. Good Morning America Saturday, which premiered in 2004, is a one-hour broadcast.

Last Saturday (Feb. 7) the three network news shows were up an average of 7.7% in Total Viewers and up 14% in younger viewers when compared to last year.

The Future of Network TV (The Atlantic)

Michael Hirschorn: As network television takes up a lower-brow position in the cultural pecking order, the higher-quality, more expensive shows will become increasingly independent of the networks that broadcast them. Eventually, networks will stop being brands and start becoming, at least in part, mere "distribution platforms."

See Morning Show Ratings

Chicago Tribune Trims Newsroom Staff

By: Ann Saphir

(Crain’s) — The Chicago Tribune fired 20 members of its newsroom Thursday as it continues to cut costs amid declining ad revenue.

The total, disclosed in a memo to employees late Thursday, brings cuts over the last year to more than 200, or nearly third of the paper’s news-gathering and editing staff.
A Tribune spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The paper’s Rome bureau will be closed, and its presence in Jerusalem scaled back, according to the memo from Editor Gerould Kern.

“We must right-size the company in response to current economic realities and to prepare for the future,” he wrote.

The layoffs included photographers, foreign correspondents and two Pulitzer Prize winners, people with direct knowledge of the cuts said. According to these people, among Thursday’s layoffs were Don Terry, who was part of a New York Times team that won a Pulitzer in 2001 for a series on race in America, business reporter Susan Chandler, food writer Emily Nunn and foreign correspondents Christine Spolar and Joel Greenberg.

Also fired were multimedia producer Christopher Booker and comics coordinator Barbara Schaffner. Features writer Charles Leroux and assistant magazine editor Jeff Lyon, also a Pulitzer Prize winner, are leaving under a buyout offered last year but delayed when Tribune Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December.

In total, management told Chicago Tribune employees at a meeting Monday that the paper would eliminate up to 60 jobs across all departments, according to people who attended.

Tribune warned of the cuts last week when Tony Hunter, CEO of Chicago Tribune Media Group, told employees that the company was “right-sizing activities.” Chicago Tribune Media Group includes the Chicago Tribune,, RedEye, Hoy and Chicago Magazine.

The company’s CEO Sam Zell is trying to renegotiate $12 billion of debt. Last month another of the media company’s papers, the Los Angeles Times, cut about 300 staff.

Thursday’s cuts follow reductions made in December when a dozen newsroom staff positions were eliminated.

The Tribune has been trimming its newsroom for more than year and has already executed at least two rounds of voluntary buyouts and involuntary layoffs. The paper cut about 100 jobs in the spring and another 80 staffers in August. It now has an estimated 460 in its newsroom.

Monday, February 9, 2009

TV Marketers Pull Back Upfront Buys: What Happens Next?

By Jon Lafayette
TV Week

The recession is finally having a deep effect on the national television advertising market.
Last week, major media companies reported that marketers have been exercising options to cancel some of the second-quarter commercial time they bought in the upfront.

For TVWeek's comprehensive coverage of how the recession is affecting the TV industry, visit the Economic Crisis Navigator page.

As of last week, the cancellations were running between 10% and 15% of upfront revenue, and there were still a significant number of large advertisers that hadn’t made a decision yet. In the previous quarter, cancellations were only slightly larger than normal.

Network executives commenting last week on the rate of second-quarter cancellations said they had expected worse, and had seen worse in past downturns.

Peter Chernin, chief operating officer of News Corp., said that about 8% of Fox Broadcasting’s second-quarter upfront sales had been canceled.

“We would expect that to end up at about 11%,” Mr. Chernin said, adding that normally cancellations are in the 7% to 8% range.

“We’re a little higher than we’ve been running in the past several years, but honestly we’re feeling that’s a little better than we expected,” he said.

At Walt Disney’s ABC, upfront orders are “coming in slightly lower than what you otherwise might have expected, but not to the extent that we’re alarmed about that,” said Tom Staggs, the company’s chief financial officer. “We’re seeing a little more holdback in consumer goods and, to a lesser extent, pharmaceuticals, with some strength in some other categories.”

David Levy, president of Turner Sales and Turner Sports, also said options were running lower than expected so far.

“But we’ve given out extensions, so we don’t know where this will end up,” he said. “I do believe it will be higher than last year for sure, but I’m not sure it will be the highest we’ve ever had.”
Mr. Levy said advertising budget cuts are deeper than they were during the media meltdown in 2001.

Those assessments are the most tangible reflections of how the declining economy is reverberating through the television ad market. The pullbacks announced by media companies on last week’s earnings calls could signal how a reduced flow of advertising money will play out in the May upfront, as well as the scatter and cable markets.

Some major marketers, led by Procter & Gamble, have cut their upfront buys by the contractual maximum of 50%, network executives said. General Motors is believed by some market observers to have canceled half of its upfront buys as well.

Some of the upfront money may go to prop up marketers’ earnings. In other cases, marketers might cancel upfront options, then come back to the networks in the scatter market to try for better prices.

“I do think that some of the money that’s coming out of the marketplace is going to be coming back in,” said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at media agency Carat.

At Scripps Networks, where cancellations of upfront orders were running in the low teens, President John Lansing said many of the advertisers taking options are jumping back into the scatter market.

Some of those advertisers may be hoping to buy ads at lower prices, but, Mr. Lansing said, “We will be very determined not to break our pricing structure.”

Most network sales executives say they have kept their prices at or above upfront levels in the scatter market so far.

“We have not done any rollbacks. If anything, we’ve gotten slightly higher scatter rates,” Mr. Levy said.

He’s hoping advertisers taking options on broadcast will move some of those dollars to cable, where ratings points are substantially cheaper.

“Advertisers right now have to have efficiencies,” Mr. Levy said. “We’re hoping that our brands, our promotions, our product integrations are what’s going to keep people within us. We’re working with our clients right now to make sure they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck.”
Pricing is likely to be an issue as advertisers and the networks head to the upfront.

With their ratings shrinking, the broadcasters can’t preserve total revenue levels if they cut prices on a cost-per-thousand-viewers basis, one buyer said. Cable sales executives also have been working to avoid cutting their CPM prices.

If there is money in the scatter market, and that money is joined by funds that have been pulled out of upfront options, prices could hold.

But the buyer said clients are exerting incredible pressure to bring down media prices.With advertisers expecting lower prices and networks holding the line, it’s unlikely that the upfront will be a smooth one.

“In theory, we could be entering one of the most highly unstable times for TV ad pricing ever,” Sanford Bernstein analyst Michael Nathanson said in a research report. “With an eye on lowering their CPM costs, clients could shift money out of higher-priced broadcast inventory and reapportion that money to cheaper cable networks.”

Alternatively, that money could be held back by marketers, drying up demand for scatter advertising and depressing prices in that market.

“The truth is no one knows anything until we get to the middle of the second quarter,” he said.Mr. Nathanson noted that in a weak market, “Network owners will face the critical decision of whether to accept lower upfront prices or hold back inventory in the hopes that a late 2009 economic recovery will drive more robust scatter pricing six months henceforth.”

But calling a bottom on the recession will be risky given the unprecedented economic conditions.
In 2001, CBS tried holding back inventory from the upfront in hopes of selling it at higher prices in the scatter market, but that strategy was foiled when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks undercut the economy’s building recovery.

During the 2001 recession, CBS sold just 55% of its inventory, Mr. Nathanson said.Still, in times of uncertainty, avoiding the long-term commitment of an upfront buy could be attractive.
“This could be the year scatter becomes a lot more attractive on both sides of the desk, rather than committing all this money in the upfront at a number you’re not comfortable with,” a media buyer said.

Tribune Forms 'Online Entertainment News' Bureau; LAT and Zap2It Merge Efforts

By Rafat Ali

Tribune, still in the middle of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, has expanded into something new, for a change: it has formed an online "entertainment news bureau" that that will provide original, multimedia content to the company's newspaper and TV websites. The bureau will merge the resources of Los Angeles Times, other Trib-owned newspapers and TV stations, and Zap2it, the Tribune Media Services-owned entertainment listings portal. TMS itself may be a sale candidate, according to previous reports.

As to what this bureau will do, that is slightly confusing: "The bureau will will leverage writers and reporters from across Tribune to bring readers constantly updated blogs and other multimedia news on more than 60 top TV shows. One of the team's first editorial projects will be a behind-the-scenes look at the unstoppable phenomenon of 'American Idol.' While located at The Times, the bureau's editorial content will be aggregated on the Zap2it portal, which will be enhanced and re-launched early this year," the company said.

This comes as LAT keeps on cutting jobs: late last month it did its third round of layoffs in less than six months.


Tribune Forms Online Entertainment News Bureau

Los Angeles Times and Zap2it to Supply Original, Multimedia Content Across Company's Newspaper and Television Station Websites; Will Offer Exclusive, Behind-the-Scenes Look at TV's 'American Idol'

CHICAGO, Feb. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- Tribune Company today announced the creation of an online entertainment news bureau that will provide original, multimedia content to the company's newspaper and television websites. The bureau will be powered by the combined resources of the Los Angeles Times (, long the country's premier outlet for entertainment industry news, and Zap2it (, the leading online source of movie and television listings.

The bureau will deliver expanded coverage of movies and television, and will leverage writers and reporters from across Tribune to bring readers constantly updated blogs and other multimedia news on more than 60 top TV shows. One of the team's first editorial projects will be a behind-the-scenes look at the unstoppable phenomenon of "American Idol." While located at The Times, the bureau's editorial content will be aggregated on the Zap2it portal, which will be enhanced and re-launched early this year.

"The Los Angeles Times covers entertainment like no one else, and it's a natural fit to locate Tribune's online bureau here," said Russ Stanton, Los Angeles Times editor. "This allows us to combine the best of Tribune's entertainment content with Zap2it's industry-leading movie and TV listings to reach an even greater audience."

The new bureau will serve a combined online audience of about 9 million unique visitors viewing 65 million pages a month across all Tribune online entertainment offerings.

"This bureau will work with reporting and producing teams at all our newspapers and TV stations to bring our audiences the most complete, behind-the-scenes entertainment report on the Web," said Marc Chase, president of Tribune Interactive. "Zap2it is now also well positioned to become a national one-stop for the best TV, movie and celebrity news and buzz."
Times editors and veteran entertainment journalists Richard Rushfield and Joseph Kapsch will lead the operation, working closely with colleagues at The Times, Tribune Interactive, Zap2it and across all Tribune newspapers.

Rushfield has been named director/national entertainment programming for "The Syndicate," Tribune Interactive's new online marketplace. He will be responsible for coordinating coverage among Tribune sites and will continue to serve as entertainment editor for
Kapsch has been named editorial director for, and will oversee the expansion of Zap2it into a national entertainment portal, aggregating information from Tribune sources as well as a network of entertainment bloggers. He will oversee a redesign of Zap2it, launching in the first half of the year. Kapsch will also retain his current responsibilities as executive producer/entertainment,

Delivering exclusive, behind-the-scenes coverage of Fox's talent show juggernaut "American Idol" will be one of the bureau's first projects.

"The more than 4 million fans who visit Zap2it each month will not only find a richer, more informative site, but one that still has the detailed TV and movie listings and showtimes they depend on," said Rebecca Baldwin, general manager of Zap2it.

About the Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times ( is the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country, with a daily readership of 2 million and 3 million on Sunday, and a combined print and interactive local weekly audience of 5.5 million. The fast-growing draws over 10 million unique visitors monthly.

The Los Angeles Times and its media businesses and affiliates -- including The Envelope (, Metromix (, Times Community Newspapers, Hoy (, and California Community News -- reach approximately 5.3 million or 40% of all adults in the Southern California marketplace. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times, has been covering Southern California for over 126 years and is part of Tribune Company, one of the country's leading media companies with businesses in publishing, the Internet and broadcasting. Additional information is available at

About is the online destination for more than 4 million TV and Movie fans who want to stay connected to popular shows, films, events, celebrities, and other fans. Zap2it is a service of Tribune Media Services. For more information about Zap2it, visit

SOURCE Tribune Company

Tribune Granted Approval of Motions on Business Operations and Procedural Matters


CHICAGO, Jan. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Tribune Company announced today that the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware has approved several motions related to business operations and procedural matters.

In addition to other favorable rulings related to business operations, the company is now able to:

-- Enter into a joint agreement with Dow Jones & Co. under which the
Chicago Tribune Company will print the daily and weekend editions of
The Wall Street Journal and Barron's in the Midwest region.

-- Make certain pre-petition contributions to 16 union pensions.

-- Pay vendors who delivered goods within 20 days prior to the company's
Dec. 8, 2008, Chapter 11 filing.

-- Pay certain commissions earned prior to Dec. 8, 2008.

The court also approved several procedural motions, including final approval of the extension of a pre-existing $300 million securitization facility.

A complete list of the rulings today will be posted at

Tribune to Create Chicagoland Television News Powerhouse


CHICAGO, Feb. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- Tribune Broadcasting today announced that it will integrate the operations of its 24-hour cable news station, CLTV, with Chicago's #1 source for news, information and entertainment, WGN-TV.

The combination will create the area's largest and most powerful television newsroom. Bringing the operations together under one roof will provide viewers with enhanced local news coverage on both cable and over-the-air television -- the benefit of a deeper, stronger, more experienced local news team with more resources at its disposal.

"This is a golden opportunity to expand our position as the breaking news leader in Chicago, to broaden our reach and develop new programming and advertising opportunities," said Ed Wilson, Chief Revenue Officer and president of Tribune Broadcasting. "This also will strengthen our overall broadcasting business in Chicago -- the moment is now."

All of CLTV's business and television functions will move to WGN-TV's facilities on Chicago's northwest side this summer. The two entities will operate together in one newsroom, with reporters and photographers delivering content to both stations.

CLTV will continue to be a stand-alone 24-hour cable news channel with extended coverage of live stories not available anywhere else and specialty programs such as "Garrard McClendon Live," "Metromix," Sports Page," "Homes Plus," and "Living Healthy Chicago."

Advertisers will benefit from the arrangement, too, with one-stop ability to buy time on both stations. Advertisers will get increased opportunities to share their message with loyal local audiences and broaden their market coverage.

"We're looking forward to collaborating with our sister station on all fronts," said Marty Wilke, WGN-TV vice president and general manager. "This gives us a competitive advantage over the other television news operations in town and benefits viewers and advertisers, as well. We can't wait to get started."

Steve Farber, CLTV's general manager, said, "This is great news all around -- our team is excited about our future and the many opportunities for growth."

TRIBUNE is America's largest employee-owned media company, operating businesses in publishing, interactive and broadcasting. In publishing, Tribune's leading daily newspapers include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, Sun Sentinel (South Florida), Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, Morning Call and Daily Press. The company's broadcasting group operates 23 television stations, WGN America on national cable, Chicago's WGN-AM and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Popular news and information websites complement Tribune's print and broadcast properties and extend the company's nationwide audience. At Tribune we take what we do seriously and with a great deal of pride. We also value the creative spirit and nurture a corporate culture that doesn't take itself too seriously.

SOURCE Tribune Company

This looks to me like what Tribune did in Denver and New Orleans with Fox, and in Philadelphia with NBC: combine operations to eliminate jobs.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Chicago Tribune Plans Job Cuts, Pay-Raise Freeze

By Greg Bensinger

Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Chicago Tribune, the flagship newspaper of bankrupt Tribune Co., will cut more jobs, halt merit pay increases this year and eliminate open positions to help stem a decline in revenue, the publisher told employees in a memo.

“The recession has had a dramatic impact on our revenue performance,” Tony Hunter said today in the memo. “We are experiencing significant declines across all key categories. And it doesn’t look like there’s any relief in sight.”

Tribune, the Chicago-based owner of the Los Angeles Times and eight other dailies, is slashing jobs and selling assets to tackle record print-advertising declines. The Chicago Tribune’s circulation fell 7.8 percent in the year through September, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Chicago Tribune cut 11 jobs in the newsroom in December, the newspaper said at the time on its Web site. In his memo today, Hunter said cost-saving measures will result in firings over the next few weeks, without specifying how many.

The newspaper said last month it would revamp its presentation, three months after undertaking a redesign that prompted reader complaints. It also began printing a tabloid- sized edition to appeal to commuters.

Gary Weitman, a spokesman for the parent company, declined to comment. Hunter and Janet Dobbs, a spokeswoman for Chicago Tribune, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

To help reduce costs, Tribune’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will begin publishing its front section using stories from the Chicago Tribune, according to two people who attended a meeting where the plan was announced.

Tribune filed for bankruptcy in December, a year after billionaire Sam Zell and a group of investors took it private in a deal that saddled the company with about $13 billion in debt.
Zell is seeking to sell the Chicago Cubs baseball team and its Wrigley Field stadium to reduce debt. Last month, he entered into exclusive talks on the sale with Tom Ricketts, chairman of Incapital LLC.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Bensinger in New York at

Tribune To Shrink Severance Packages

From Fishbowl LA

Tribune Co. attorneys announced today that they won approval from a judge to change the companies non-union severance policy. The changes would apply to future layoffs, like the ones coming to the LA Times any day now.

Under the new policy employees laid off by Tribune Co. in 2009 will receive two weeks pay for the first year of employment and one week for each additional year worked.

That's half the standard amount given to those laid off in 2008, whose severance was a weeks pay for every 6 months worked.

From the Chicago Tribune:

"We don't intend to give them more than what the market bears at this time," Tribune attorney Kevin Lantry assured the judge.

Lantry said the company anticipates "a number of layoffs" this year, but he did not provide a figure or details on how much money the severance program might involve.

"I hate to, in a public forum, articulate anticipated layoffs," said Lantry, who said after the hearing that the situation is fluid and that the company's projections could very well change.

Note: This is in sharp contrast to the recent buyout offered to ABC Network Television employees covered by NABET Local 16. The ABC techs are being offered 3 weeks pay to leave if they give up their recall rights.

It is good to have a Union. It is even better to have a good Union.


Bloomberg L.P. Cuts 100 Jobs, a First for the Company

The New York Times

Bloomberg L.P., the financial news and data firm, said on Wednesday that it had cut 100 jobs, the first layoffs since it was founded by Michael R. Bloomberg 28 years ago.

A spokeswoman for the company, Judith Czelusniak, said the cuts had occurred in Bloomberg’s radio and television divisions, which are being reorganized around the world.

Most of those laid off are based in New York City, where Bloomberg has its headquarters. The cuts represent about 1 percent of the company’s more than 10,000 employees.

With the layoffs, Mr. Bloomberg’s private and public worlds seem to be colliding. As mayor, he is proposing thousands of job cuts to close a big gap in the city’s budget.

Mr. Bloomberg, who founded the company after leaving Wall Street in 1981, is the majority owner of Bloomberg L.P. but no longer plays a day-to-day management role.

The reorganization of the TV and radio programming at Bloomberg is intended to reduce overlapping jobs within a far-flung network of international programming and channels, the company said.

Bloomberg TV, which has been broadcast around the world on up to 11 channels, is trying to create “a single English-language global network,” said Andy Lack, who heads the company’s multimedia operations. The company is trying to better compete with popular financial news networks like CNBC, which dominates the United States market.

The job cuts jolted the media world because Bloomberg, unlike its peers in journalism, had seemed largely immune to the economic downturn.

But the company said the layoffs were not linked to the recession. It plans to hire 1,000 workers in its news and financial divisions over the next year, many of them in New York

Thursday, February 5, 2009

ABC N.Y. Buyout/Layoff of NABET 16 Staff Engineers

From: NABET-CWA Local 16 News []
Sent: Wednesday, February 04, 2009 10:54 PM To:

Here is what is happening. On Monday management informed the union of a staff reduction in BO&E. Using SL24/HH, the Alternative Layoff Procedure negotiated in the last contract, they are seeking to reduce 42 staff jobs from among 8 groups they are creating for this purpose.

There are 115 members in the affected groups. Letters informing the members of their inclusion in one of these groups were overnighted by management to their homes on Tuesday. Each of the members either has been or will be contacted by the union to discuss their individual situation. We will use e-mail and our web site to post periodic updates on this process for the general membership but the details will be sparse until it is over. We want to protect the affected members privacy as much as possible.


According to an ABC NABET 16 represented Technical Director:

This is a snippet of what is happening at ABC Network.

Immediately affected are:

8 positions in audio (4 A-1's, 4 A-2's; approx.

11 in graphics operations (not artist/designers).

Several (almost all) linear post production editors.

3 video engineers.

1 Lighting Director.

This does not involve my "group" of Technical Directors. Yet. It's only a matter of time.

There is little or no work for the 2 dozen or more freelance TD's in my group. This also does not currently include camera ops., graphic artists, desk assistants, non-linear editors, and others.

Overtime is severely curtailed already.

The offer as I understand it is a buyout/layoff alternative with a kicker.

Buyout: 2 weeks per year of service with a maximum of 104 weeks of severance pay.

Kicker: extra week of severance pay per year of service by declining rehiring preference rights.

In lieu of buyout, a layoff will occur with greatly reduced severance pay and no kicker.

According to the terms of the most recent contract, seniority can be redefined by management to corral those they want to terminate more easily. This is part of what is happening as well. In some instances individuals have not kept up with advancing technology. In some cases there are individuals that management wants out or made into freelancers. It is easy for management to put people into these "groups".

New York State Workers’ Compensation Attorneys and Representatives

From IATSE Local 1

For A Complete List of Workers’ Compensation Attorneys in New York State Go to the Website of The Injured Worker’s Bar Association at:

Workers’ Compensation Attorneys and Representatives in the New York City, Long Island and Lower Hudson Region

(These are attorneys with whom NYCOSH has worked. This list, however, in no way constitutes an endorsement or recommendation of any particular firm.)

Brecher, Fishman, Pasternack, Popish, Heller, Rubin and Reiff

New York City:
Brooklyn, Queens: (212) 341-7900
Bronx, Staten Island: (718) 222-9800
Nassau County: (516) 742-3636
Suffolk County: (631) 348-1668
Westchester County: (914) 328-8500
Rockland County: (845) 354-6874

Cohen and Seigel
Westchester County: (914) 421-0080

Fine, Olin and Anderman
New York City: (212) 267-1650 or (800) 522-9001
Long Island: (516) 542-1295

Fusco, Bradenstein & Rada
Manhattan and Bronx: (800) 416-5454
Woodbury: (516) 496-0400

Finkelstein & Meirowitz
New York City: (212) 374-9423

Grey and Grey Manhattan: (212) 964-1342
Queens: (718) 268-5300
Nassau County: (516) 249-1342
Suffolk County: (631) 249-1342

Susan Klein & Associates
New York City: (212) 344-9022
Queens: (718) 558-4222

McCarthy, Chechanover & Rosado
New York City and Long Island:
(718) 830-3200 Toll free: 1-800-471-4878

Rubin, Abramson
New York City: (212) 964-3300

Sher, Herman, Bellone & Tipograph

New York City: (212) 732-8579
Yonkers: (914) 376-3237

Brook and Franz (Licensed Representatives)

New York City: (212) 233-0710

Advocate for Injured Workers: 1-800-580-6665

From IATSE Local 1


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tribune Co. wins right to pay $8.8 mil in bonuses

Bloomberg News

Tribune Co., the second-largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., was authorized by the bankruptcy judge at a hearing yesterday to continue or adopt employee benefit programs for non-executive workers.

Extending a program in effect before the Chapter 11 filing, Tribune won the right to pay as much as $8.8 million in performance bonuses covering work before filing for reorganization on Dec. 8.
The bankruptcy judge also gave the green light for adopting a severance plan for non-union workers. The severance plan under union contracts will remain in effect.

Given the firings before the bankruptcy and the possibility of more in the future, Tribune decided morale would be enhanced by a clearly written severance plan applicable to all non-union workers who lose their jobs involuntarily. Fired workers are to receive two weeks’ pay, plus another week for every year with the company.

Tribune was acquired in December 2007 in a $13.8 billion leveraged buyout led by Sam Zell. It listed $13 billion in debt for borrowed money and assets of $7.6 billion.

Tribune owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, six other newspapers, and 23 television stations, in addition to the Cubs baseball team and Wrigley Field in Chicago. Neither the team nor the field is in bankruptcy. A sale of both to Tom Ricketts is in the works.

The case is In re Tribune Co., 08-13141, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District Delaware (Wilmington).


Tribune moves to adopt new severance plan
Bankruptcy judge asked to approve new severance plan for nonunion Tribune employees

Randall Chase, AP Business Writer

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) -- A Delaware bankruptcy judge is expected to approve the Tribune Co.'s request to implement a new severance plan for nonunion employees.

Tribune attorneys said at a hearing Tuesday that they will submit a modified order for Judge Kevin Carey to sign that would provide for notice to the creditors committee and the U.S. trustee in the case before any payments are made to officers or other insiders.

"We don't intend to give them more than what the market bears at this time," Tribune attorney Kevin Lantry assured the judge.

Lantry said the company anticipates "a number of layoffs" this year, but he did not provide a figure, or details on how much money the severance program might involve.

"I hate to, in a public forum, articulate anticipated layoffs," explained Lantry, who said after the hearing that the situation is fluid and that the company's current projections could very well change.

Carey signaled that he was willing to authorize the new severance plan, as long as it included proper notice regarding payments to insiders.

"What you're asking for is a prospective blanket approval of such payments," he told Lantry. "It seems to me it's got to be conditioned on some process that lets others know what the debtor is doing."

Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The (Baltimore) Sun, The Hartford Courant and other dailies, as well as 23 television stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team, sought bankruptcy protection in December because of dwindling advertising revenues and a debt load of $13 billion.

According to a filing last month, the company currently employs about 14,000 full-time workers and 2,450 part-timers, about 15 percent of whom are represented by unions and subject to collective bargaining agreements.

The company is proposing a nonunion new severance policy aimed at reducing employee attrition and maintaining morale. Under the proposal, nonunion workers who are laid off would receive at least two weeks base pay for the first year of service, and a maximum of one week of additional base pay for each additional year.

The severance pay could come in the form of salary continuation or a lump sum payment and would require a waiver and general release of claims against the company by the employee. The policy would not amount to a contractual obligation of the company but would simply serve as a guideline for its business units to implement at their discretion.

An attorney representing 80 retirees of Times Mirror, which was acquired by Tribune in 2000, initially objected to the new severance program, saying his clients would suffer even more financial hardship as a result. The company said in December that it would halt deferred compensation and other payments to former workers, who essentially would have to get in line with other creditors.

"This is more than a financial restructuring involving big banks and bondholders; ... it's a bankruptcy that involves probably close to 200 retirees from Times Mirror," said attorney Jay Teitelbaum, an attorney representing about 80 retirees, including former Times Mirror Chief Executive Mark Willes. Willes reportedly is owed about $11.2 million in retirement benefits and deferred compensation.

Teitelbaum said his clients are owed a total of at least $80 million, and that virtually all of them have seen a reduction in their retirement income. He initially objected to the new severance plan for nonunion workers, saying Tribune had not demonstrated that it would be a benefit to the estate and had not addressed its impact on retirees and other creditors.

On Tuesday, however, Teitelbaum said Tribune attorneys had convinced him that the new program would be beneficial and that he was OK with it, despite his concerns about the retirees.
"They're going to suffer a more significant loss if we can't turn this company around," he noted.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Stripped of hysterical rhetoric, EFCA worth a look

By Lisa Feldman

Proposed changes to federal labor law don’t often provoke media furor. The big exception is the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA, which would change the way unions are certified as bargaining agents by the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB. What’s the big deal?

Certification begins when workers sign authorization cards, indicating that they would like to be represented by a particular union. Under current law, if more than 50 percent of employees sign cards, the employer can decide that this “card check” — overseen and validated by the NLRB — constitutes a de facto election and recognize the union. Or the boss can refuse to recognize the card check and require a secret ballot vote. It’s the employer’s choice.

EFCA would shift this decision to the employees. If they want a secret ballot, they get one. If they don’t, no secret ballot would occur, as long as a majority signs cards indicating a preference for union representation. There are, of course, safeguards. Allegations of illegal coercion, for example, would trigger a secret ballot.

It seems simple. Yet nearly all the media frenzy surrounding EFCA — those TV ads, the OpEds, the phony telephone polls — stems from this change.

EFCA opponents seem to believe that competent adults — people who regularly say no to drugs, telemarketers, and their own teenage children — find it so inherently intimidating to be asked to sign a union authorization card that they invariably do so without a whimper of protest. They say that the only fair vote is by secret ballot.

EFCA supporters point out that many votes usually considered fair are not secret: a show of hands in a public meeting, a voice or roll-call vote in a legislative assembly. Nor does a secret ballot necessarily guarantee a fair election.

Imagine that a referendum election was scheduled in your town. Imagine that the town council required you to attend meetings at which the preferability of a No vote was strongly argued.

Imagine that “consultants” noted whose lawns sported Vote Yes signs.

Imagine that private conversations on the election were routinely re-ported back to the council.

Imagine that if the council thought you would vote Yes, you could be evicted and forced to move out of town.

By the time the election occurred, the pool of probable Yes voters would be considerably reduced. The vote might be by secret ballot, but the process would hardly be fair.

This is very like the situation under current labor law. Employers who claim they can’t afford to raise wages often hire high-priced consultants to help them defeat a union election. They schedule mandatory, closed-door, anti-union meetings — sometimes even one-on-one anti-union sessions with supervisors. They may threaten to close the workplace. If that doesn’t work, they resort to firing union activists. Securing redress for these violations of labor law is a cumbersome and expensive process.

Many workers have come to believe that the NLRB is no longer the neutral guarantor of rights and due process it was set up to be, and has become biased in favor of employers. That’s the impetus for EFCA.

This isn’t a new problem. Before 1965, it wasn’t illegal for black people to register to vote in Mississippi; it was just very, very hard. They were required to pass exams on arcane provisions of the state constitution. When a black person turned up at the service counter, the registrar’s office was apt to close. There were delays and procedural hurdles. Blacks who tried to register were subject to intimidation, harassment, even violence. Apologists for the status quo claimed that change would bring fraud and abuse of power.

Instead, change brought the Voting Rights Act. This abolished requirements for literacy tests, constitutional exams and character references. It made registering to vote simpler and more direct. Instead of protest marches, tear gas, and snarling police dogs, we now have elections, most of them by secret ballot. It’s not perfect, but it is progress.

EFCA is the equivalent change for working people. It would allow them to express their preference for or against union representation in a direct and simple way. If EFCA passes, no laws or regulations guaranteeing oversight of unions or requiring good faith in collective bargaining would be repealed. Union members would still vote for union officers or on contract ratification by secret ballot.

Stripped of hysterical rhetoric, EFCA seems worth considering.

EFCA has passed the House. The Senate has yet to vote. When it does, I hope Maine's senators will give EFCA the fair consideration it deserves.

Lisa Feldman works at University College Bangor and is a member of ACSUM-MEA, the union representing clerical workers in the University of Maine System.


T.A Frank's article on the effort to unionize Lancaster County's Rite Aid Distribution Center is an important read. Frank does something novel in the recent debate over easing labor law: He doesn't focus on card check. Rather, he focuses on the harsh realities of forming a union under current law.

In the Lancaster organizing effort, for instance, the National Labor Relations Board -- Bush's National Labor Relations Board -- was so appalled by Rite Aid's brutal counter-organizing that they planned to take the company to court on 49 separate violations of federal labor law. Rite Aid chose to settle. That meant "agreeing to rehire two fired union supporters with back pay and to post a notice in a common area promising not to engage in thirteen types of illegal anti-union activity." Some settlement. The organizing campaign continued, and so too did Rite Aid's efforts:

Rite Aid insisted on an election, and the date was set for March 2008. Once again, the company did what it could to persuade workers to vote against the union. HR staff conducted mandatory hour-long sessions with employees once a week. They would lecture at length on why unionization would be damaging to workers. They would warn employees that the union would require high dues and stand in the way of healthy communication between management and labor. They would show videos about plants being shut down after becoming unionized.

Meanwhile, by Warner’s count, more than 100 union supporters had been dismissed since June of 2006—although never, of course, for the explicit reason of having supported unionization. "We had a list of our people," she says. "And one by one we kept watching them get fired." By contrast, Warner says, only about ten non-union-supporting employees were let go in the same stretch.

Why did Rite Aid take so many chances with the law?

Perhaps because it made economic sense. While the company’s actions may have been illegal under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, they were also nearly cost-free. If a company illegally undermines a union campaign by threatening to fire workers, or by spying on them, or by promising to shut down the facility, the most serious penalty it can expect to face is being ordered to post notices in the workplace promising not to engage in such activities in the future.

If a company illegally fires a worker, and the worker can somehow prove his or her case, the penalty is a requirement to reinstate the employee with back pay—minus whatever the employee has earned elsewhere in the meantime. And if a company negotiates in bad faith, it can perhaps expect an order from the NLRB to start negotiating in good faith. Such punishments are the equivalent of punishing shoplifters by asking them to put the merchandise back.

This is what lawmakers have sought to remedy in devising the Employee Free Choice Act.

For all the controversy, EFCA is a surprisingly modest bill, with provisions aimed at strengthening existing labor laws rather than altering them substantively. Under EFCA, if Rite Aid had been found guilty of making illegal threats or of spying or of intimidation, it could have faced a monetary penalty—up to $20,000 per incident in cases of repeated violations.

If Rite Aid had been found to have illegally fired a union supporter, it would have been required to pay not just the back wages, but three times the back wages. And if contract negotiations were being conducted without results, either party could seek federal mediation after ninety days. If, after thirty additional days, negotiations were still stalled, then an arbiter would be able to impose a contract settlement that would last two years. This would prevent employers (or employees) from running out the clock with bad-faith talks.[...]

What most undermines the secret-ballot process is that employers can violate the law in numerous ways without consequences. Under EFCA, however, every illegal action has the potential to be costly, so firings, spying, threats, or other forms of intimidation would be less likely. Also, there is an alternative way to preserve the secret ballot while guarding against company malfeasance: expedited elections.

Under current law, months can go by between when NLRB announces the results of a card check vote and when a secret-ballot election is held. If, however, this campaign window were reduced to just a few days, employers would have less opportunity to intimidate union supporters into changing their minds. Workers I spoke to in Lancaster seemed content with this alternative. And some savvy people in the labor movement I spoke to feel the same way—provided that employers either refrain from captive-audience campaigning or else grant union members equal access to the workplace during a campaign.