Thursday, August 13, 2009

Gannett Cuts 70 More Jobs at Westchester Newspaper

The New York Times

The Journal News, a Westchester area newspaper owned by Gannett, told all 288 of its news and advertising sales employees on Wednesday that their jobs were being eliminated and they would need to apply for redefined positions by the end of the week.

After the redefined jobs are filled, there will be 20 fewer positions in advertising and 50 fewer positions in news, reducing the newsroom staff (which includes Web employees) by more than a quarter.

Last week, the paper laid off 57 employees in areas like production, finance, and information technology.

“We’ve been working on a restructuring plan for the Journal News for a while,” said Michael J. Fisch, publisher and president of the newspaper, in an interview. “That’s partly the reason for the move today, but the other part of the reason for having employees reapply for newly defined jobs is to recognize that our business has changed.”

A reporter who has been at the paper for more than 15 years said that matching old jobs to new was confusing. “For example, there are no photo jobs listed, but ‘visual specialists,’ ” the reporter said, while the closest jobs to traditional print reporting seemed to be “topics beat reporter” and “local beat reporter.”

“It seemed obvious that a lot of the local communities we cover will get shorted on coverage, mainly because there’s not enough people,” said the reporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns over the job.

Employees whose jobs were cut must apply for the new positions via the company’s internal Web site by Friday, Mr. Fisch said.

The employees are to be interviewed next week. The Journal News says it expects to make the rehiring decisions by the week of Aug. 24.

The cuts include some midlevel managers, Mr. Fisch said. “Within the news and advertising departments, there are some managerial positions that have been eliminated in this structuring,” he said. “We had a number of high-level executive positions eliminated last year.”

After the cuts, the newspaper will have about 700 employees, Mr. Fisch said.

The Journal News reported an average weekday paid circulation of 95,389 in its most recent filing with the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The newspaper also covers Rockland and Putnam counties.

In July, Gannett reported an 18 percent decline in revenue in its second quarter compared to the same period a year earlier. Newspaper ad revenue dropped 32 percent, it said.

But Gannett has been slashing costs aggressively, including cutting thousands of jobs. That led to a second-quarter profit of $70.5 million. There was another bright spot in that report: Gannett executives said in a conference call with analysts that the advertising market had improved in June and July.

As It Cuts Jobs, Gannett Also Cuts Severance Pay

The New York Times

Last December, when the Gannett newspaper chain laid off thousands of workers, Jenny Poon was not one of them. Now she wishes she had been.

Ms. Poon, an art director at The Arizona Republic, lost her job this month in the latest wave of layoffs, as the Gannett Company, like other corporations, shed jobs to keep up with falling revenue.

But rather than pay severance, as it did in previous rounds, Gannett is paying what is called supplemental unemployment benefits, which allows the company to shift part of the cost onto the states.

The company says that for most employees the result will be about the same — that in fact, many will get a little more, and a few could get much more. But employees are discovering that some of them, like Ms. Poon, stand to get a lot less than they would have under the old severance packages, and some will get nothing.

Ms. Poon, 26, has a graphic design business that generates a little income, which will lower her state unemployment benefits and may be enough to wipe them out entirely. She is awaiting the state’s ruling to learn which. And if she is not eligible for payments from the state, she will receive nothing from Gannett.

Other former Republic employees who had part-time second jobs say those jobs now mean missing out on thousands of dollars from the company.

“I don’t blame them for cutting and trying to save money because things are bad, but there ought to be a decent severance,” Ms. Poon said. “This way it punishes people for trying to find work.”

Gannett, a largely nonunion company, is under no obligation to make severance or any other payments to most of the people it lays off, and it is not alone in looking for ways to spend less on employees as it weathers the downturn; many newspaper companies, including The New York Times Company, have cut wages and benefits.

As for supplemental unemployment programs like Gannett’s, “they exist but they’re pretty rare,” said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project. Several major publishers, including the Tribune Company, the McClatchy Company and the Times Company, said they have never used one and pay standard severance instead.

Robin Pence, a Gannett spokeswoman, said the 1,400 people laid off this month should not think of the program as severance. “The purpose of this is to supplement your unemployment while you’re getting a job,” she said. “It’s a transitional pay, not severance.”

That distinction is lost on employees who say that the practical effect of being paid — or not — is the same, no matter how the program is labeled.

In this month’s layoffs, as in previous rounds, affected employees can keep receiving the equivalent of their salaries for a number of weeks equal to their years of service; for instance, a 10-year employee would continue to be paid for 10 weeks.

But in this round, the company told workers to file for state unemployment, which in Arizona and some other states means filing again every week. If they qualify for state payments, they can apply for supplemental benefits to Total Management Solutions, a company hired by Gannett to run the program, and receive the difference between their former salaries and their state unemployment checks.

The company said it did not know how much it would save, compared with paying severance, or how many employees would be adversely affected. It said most employees would get a little more than they would have from severance, because unemployment benefits are exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes.

The move raised the minimum benefit from two weeks’ pay to three. And laid-off employees with more than 26 years’ service — Gannett said it did not know how many there were — could get significantly more than they would have from severance, because the maximum benefit was raised from 26 weeks to 36.

Gannett operates hundreds of newspapers in many states, but the benefit restrictions are a particular concern in Arizona, whose unemployment benefits are among the nation’s lowest, capped at $265 a week. The Arizona Department of Economic Security says that unemployment beneficiaries become ineligible if they bring in more in a week than their maximum weekly unemployment check. And for former Gannett workers, any interruption in unemployment eligibility means no further payments from the company.

“If you take part-time work or freelance work, even for a week, you get nothing from Gannett,” said Dave Lumia, 52, who was an assistant sports editor at The Republic. “It certainly doesn’t encourage me to go out and look for work.”

Mr. Lumia, who worked at the paper for 13 years, said his wife lost her job in December, and they are weighing whether they can afford to help their daughter pay for college this fall.

Jennifer Johnson, who was laid off from her job as an editor on The Republic’s Page 1 team, quickly found a new post, working for the Arizona Democratic Party. But that means she will not receive nine of the 10 weeks’ pay she would have gotten, she said.

Labor lawyers say that in a small number of states — including New York, where Gannett has several newspapers — there is another way that people could receive much less than they would have under the company’s former severance plans. In those states, people who lose their jobs can receive full severance payments and full state unemployment benefits simultaneously. But Gannett’s new program makes that impossible.

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