Monday, March 2, 2009

Protesting Cuts At The LA Times

By Cindy Kaffen

LOS ANGELES--One hundred union members and their supporters rallied and marched at the Los Angeles Times newspaper headquarters February 23 to protest management's union-busting tactics and retaliatory campaign against pressroom workers.

Since the first collective bargaining agreement of the pressroom workers--members of the newly formed Local 140-N of the Graphic Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters (GCC/IBT)--was ratified in December at the notoriously anti-union newspaper, the 250 men and women who run the presses have been subject to a campaign of daily harassment, deteriorating safety and targeting of union supporters for discipline and termination.

Press workers are being disproportionately targeted in ongoing cuts at the Times-- 63 pressroom employees are slated for termination in this latest round--and being offered severance packages of a few weeks instead of the up to eight months reportedly being offered to other (non-union) employees and supervisors.

The workers voted for Teamsters representation in January 2007 to fight the ongoing cuts called for by the Tribune Company, owner of the Times since 2000. It was the first time workers in the pressroom had union representation since 1970.

They ratified their contract in December 2008, and now are being targeted by billionaire owner Sam Zell, who bought the Tribune Company in April 2007. Zell slashed jobs and filed for the safety of bankruptcy protection as workers were ratifying their contract.

Local 140-N President Ronnie Pineda explained, "Most of us have been working for decades here. We're saying treat us with the equality and fairness we deserve. They can spend hundreds of millions for baseball players [the Tribune Company also owns the Chicago Cubs], but have to get rid of us? It doesn't add up."

James has worked at the Times for 25 years. As he said:

We're tired of being pounded on because we're pro-union. We worked hard for years, giving our best. With the cuts over the past few years, we're under a lot of pressure to get it out with less and less people--and this is what you get. We're all just a number to them. It's not just 63 jobs, it's 63 families that are being cut.

Pressroom workers were joined at the rally by GCC/IBT Local 404, Teamsters Local 396, Iron Workers Local 416 and members of the Service Employees International Union. The union has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and is planning for future actions.

Note: Similar behavior by management at Tribune's flagship television station, WPIX, has greatly increased the level of stress for workers at this famous New York TV station.

Broadcast engineers at the station say that WPIX has always operated with fewer engineers than are necessary for safe operations, resulting in numerous on the job injuries over the years. The company's excuse is always: "The IBEW Local 1212 contract at WPIX has no minimum staffing requirement." Now they are cutting back further.

60 shifts per week have already been eliminated from the weekly engineering schedule at WPIX, cutting the equivalent of 12 full time positions at the station by eliminating freelancers. Staff layoffs loom as everyone waits for the other shoe to drop.

Master control has been cut from a three to a two person crew, remote trucks are now one man bands, and the company's idea of shared jurisdiction only works in one direction, they take our editing and server operator work away, but refuse to share their writing and producing work with IBEW engineers.

WPIX went from four screening shifts a day to two, and the remaining screeners often work through meals and breaks, come in early and/or stay late without compensation, in order to finish the assigned work.

Broken chairs; filthy vents blowing cold air directly on engineers; single maintenance men running cable, leaving open holes in the floor unattended; are the rule, rather than the exception.

Complaints to management and human resources fall on deaf ears. Multiple violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been reported to HR and been scoffed at and ignored.

Recently, Sal Marchiano picked up a newspaper and read he had "retired" from his job as nightly sports anchor for WPIX-TV, a position he held for 14 years. This was like a living, breathing somebody reading his obituary.

"Sal made a decision to retire at the end of this year, and last week was Sal's last week on the air as our sports anchor," a WPIX-TV spokeswoman told the Daily News at the time.

Long time AFTRA member, Marchiano, who for 41 years (at Channels 2, 7 & 11), provided highlights, wisecracks and sarcasm to those inclined to "keep it where it is," chuckled at the notion he had decided to call it quits. "Reports about my retirement were - and are - inaccurate," Marchiano said.

It's bad enough not to have your contract renewed, but to have the company attempt to damage Sal's ability to work elsewhere by falsely announcing his retirement, is disgraceful by any measure.

Tribune is cutting operating costs at all their newspapers and TV stations.

To that end, Tribune and Local TV Holdings combined the operations of their stations in Denver and St. Louis.

In Denver, the agreement combines Local TV owned FOX affiliate KDVR and Tribune's KWGN. In St. Louis, Tribune's KPLR and Local TV owned FOX affiliate, KTVI, will share services. The two stations in each city will locate in the same facility, use combined news operations, and share certain programming.

In Philadelphia, Tribune owned WTXF first began sharing ENG video footage and helicopter services with NBC affiliate WCAU, then subcontracted the entire news operation to the NBC affiliate, leaving only 7 IBEW represented engineers to run and maintain Tribune's master control at WTXF.

Tribune Broadcasting announced recently that it will combine the facilities and staff of its 24-hour cable news station, CLTV, with their own WGN-TV.

Will this happen in New York? We don't know, but consider the following:

The CW Network already airs out of the CBS Broadcast Center and NBC has already done a deal with Tribune in Philadelphia, so either would be a good fit for them, if Tribune decided go the consolidation route.

They could also automate the studio news operation, combining audio, video, robotics, server, graphics, DA, TD, and director into one awful job. This would eliminate 7 more IBEW Local 1212 represented job categories.

The company could consolidate the master control for all 23 stations into Indianapolis, much like CNN does in Atlanta and eliminate local master control at WPIX altogether.

Could any of these things actually happen at WPIX?

Who knows?

But, to quote an old horror film, "Something evil this way comes."


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