Friday, February 26, 2010

Cuts at TV-News Divisions Signal Leaner Approach

By SAM SCHECHNER The Wall Street Journal

ABC News will likely make more use of journalists like Dan Harris. shown above in Nepal in 2008, who gather news with smaller production crews.

Staff cuts at two of the biggest broadcast-television news outfits in the U.S. foreshadow a shift toward cheaper TV news gathering, as broadcast-news groups face shrinking profits and increasing competition from cable and the Internet.

ABC News, a division of Walt Disney Co., said this week it would embark on a "fundamental transformation" of its operations, a move that could cut as much as a quarter of its news staff of approximately 1,500, according a person familiar with the matter.

The move comes three weeks after CBS Corp.'s news division began to shed more than 6% of its staff of roughly 1,400 and just over three years after General Electric Co.'s NBC News began rounds of stiff cuts.

The shift raises the question of how long news organizations can continue to do more with less. "This is more, done differently," said David Westin, president of ABC News. "I'm finding out, 'Can we thrive in this new world?' "

A centerpiece of ABC's plan is to rely more extensively on a new breed of TV journalist who can produce stories using new, digital equipment alone or with much smaller teams.

In TV newsrooms, a person who can do the job of both a producer and an editor is sometimes called a "predator."

For decades, network-news divisions were almost the only source of images from the day's events. Anchors like Walter Cronkite were fixtures in tens of millions of American homes. But since the 1980s, broadcasters faced pressure to deliver consistent profit. And now they compete with a geyser of Internet updates as well as nonstop coverage from three, major 24-hour cable-news networks.

More people still watch evening news on NBC, ABC and CBS than on cable, CBS's Sunday night "60 Minutes" remains popular and NBC has seen its evening-news ratings tick up slightly this year. But the three evening newscasts' combined average audience of about 24 million this season is down more than 15% from a decade ago, according to Nielsen Co.

Richard C. Wald, a former top executive at ABC News and NBC News, says the big broadcast networks suffer, in part, from offering a mass-audience product in a news environment that has splintered into niches.

"They absolutely must change," said Mr. Wald, noting that Mr. Westin's move to wider use of "one-man-bands" could spread: "The minute he has any success, it will be widely copied," he said.

CBS and ABC are in a dicey position. Neither owns a cable-news network that brings in revenue from monthly cable and satellite-TV bills.

Time Warner
Inc.'s CNN, News Corp.'s Fox News and NBC News's MSNBC will bring in a combined $1.6 billion in U.S. subscription fees in 2010, according to research firm SNL Kagan. News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.

Those fees have helped NBC News remain less reliant on advertising through the downturn. "I can't underscore enough how important MSNBC is to the overall financial well-being of NBC News," said Steve Capus, president of NBC News. "It enables everything that we do."

The cuts have unleashed a wave of uneasiness in TV newsrooms. Still, some veterans say changes to the costly way broadcast-news divisions operate—gathering footage that is already widely available, for instance—are overdue.

CBS said job cuts earlier this month were part of an effort to make "adjustments" to cope with a decline in advertising revenue. "It's just to be more efficient in the way we gather the news," Sean McManus, CBS's president of news and sports, said in an interview at the time.

NBC News went through a round of cuts in 2006, moving MSNBC into NBC's Manhattan headquarters, merging much of its infrastructure into the rest of NBC News. Those cuts, which NBC says amounted to about 5% of news staff, came after Mr. Capus saw costs rising and revenue sinking in 2005. "It was an eye-opening moment to sit there and realize our business was in trouble," Mr. Capus said.

ABC has been experimenting with smaller newsgathering teams in far-flung locations. On late-night show "Nightline," staff sometimes shoot and edit their own material, a practice Mr. Westin cited in announcing his cuts.

"Maintaining the quality, or enhancing the quality, but for much less money—I think that is a very viable business model," Mr. Westin said.

NBC News also makes use of several "backpack" reporters. But NBC has no immediate plans to change its mix of traditional- and digital-reporting techniques, Mr. Capus said: "You have to pick your spots."

Write to Sam Schechner at

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Unions Lay Into Comcast-NBC Universal

Communications Workers of America, IFTA, others weigh in on merger

By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, February 25, 2010

Union representatives had plenty to say about the proposed Comcast/NBCU merger, according to a copy of their prepared testimony for Thursday's House Antitrust Committee hearing.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, which represents some Comcast employees, said the deal would likely mean "the loss of good jobs, the erosion of employee rights, and undermine living standards in the communications and media industries. "He said that given the $8 billion in new debt NBC will be taking on day one, there will be "intense pressure" to cut costs.

Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts said at earlier Hill hearings that there are no plans for widespread layoffs, pointing out that there is not much overlap in the primarily vertical transaction. In their joint testimony prepared for Thursday's hearing, Roberts and NBCU President Jeff Zucker said the deal would increase investment, since Comcast is focused "exclusively on communications and entertainment" (unlike GE), and that the deal will "preserve and create sustainable media and technology jobs in the U.S."

Cohen says the FCC and DOJ should not rely on voluntary commitments.

Jean Prewitt, president of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, said what was good for Comcast and NBCU in the merger, which she identified as cost-savings and synergies, "is not good for the American public." And she suggested that Comcast's promise of more independent programming might, instead of a field where all flowers bloom, prove to be "a walled and sparsely tended garden."She called it one more step on the road to vertical integration in the media industry that has already reduced the opportunities for independent programming to reach the public.

IFTA views the Internet as a new opportunity to reach the public with its programming, but IFTA says that could be closed to independents as well.Comcast has pledged to add independent programming as a voluntary condition of the deal, but Prewitt is not assuaged. "Comcast has not clearly outlined its definition of an 'independent channel,'" she said. "We do not know what percentage of its content will be truly independent. We do not have binding assurances that budgets for acquiring content will be competitive with those of the major channels."

In short, she said, the deal should not be approved without strong and enforceable conditions that insure independents have more "distribution slots."

Scheduled to testify at the hearing in addition to Cohen. Prewitt, Roberts and Zucker are Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project, Mark Cooper of Consumer Federation, and Marc Morial, president of the Urban League, who weighed in on the two companies earlier in the day.

NewBay Media, LLC. 810 Seventh Avenue, 27th Floor, New York, NY 10019 T (212) 378-0400 F (212) 378-0470

Comcast/NBCU Merger Aired Out Once Again

TVBR - TV/Cable News

The proposed merger of Comcast and NBCU is either one of the greatest things for consumers imaginable, or the worst. It’s great for diversity, competition and localism, or it’s horrible. It all depended on who had the floor at the 2/25/10 hearing in the House Judiciary Committee under John Conyers (D-MI).

Conyers said he is skeptical of the effectiveness of antitrust protections, and stated his belief that vertical integration can be even worse than horizontal consolidation. That makes the proposed merger of Comcast and NBCU very worthy of close consideration. He said that mergers always lead to job loss. “Now we have a proposal before us that I am approaching very carefully.”

Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) notes that the combined companies would be one of the largest media companies in the world.

Usually, though, Congress examines head-to-head mergers; this is vertical instead.

Can the combined company use Comcast’s distribution platform to prevent competitors from getting NBC content? The company says access will remain after the merger.

The companies have made commitments that suggest the merger will in fact be good for consumers. The Time Warner merger showed that concerns for consumers can be overstated, Smith noted, even if it also shows that mergers are not always a wise business decision.

The panel included Brian Roberts (Comcast), Jeff Zucker (NBCU), Jean M. Prewitt (Independent Film & Television Alliance), Thomas W. Hazlett (George Mason University School of Law), Mark Cooper (Consumer Federation of America), Larry Cohen (Communications Workers of America), Andrew Schwartzman (Media Access Project), and Marc Morial (National Urban League).

Roberts told Howard Berman (D-CA), who is concerned about local in-district jobs, that this merger is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to transform Comcast, so the motivation is not to look for ways to slim down, it is to continue to grow even more, extending what will be merged to new platforms. And since there is virtually no overlap between Comcast and NBCU holdings, there is no particular motivation to cut employees.

Zucker added that the last couple of years have been difficult; witness ABC’s recently announced reductions in its news department. The Comcast investment actually is good news for NBC, he said employees.

Prewitt, after listening to Roberts and Zucker talk about percentages of programming they run and do not own currently, said that much of it isn’t from independents, it’s from other conglomerates. What independents do get carried tend to be shunted to cable, with less opportunity to succeed and find a large audience. More and more channels are cutting out independents, and this merger can only aggravate the situation.

Cooper said that burying a couple of channels somewhere within a 500 channel lineup is not the kind of commitment that will fix the situation. Great independent programming came back when the networks had to buy it – without the requirement, the diversity went away. He said it is a historical fact that vertical integration undermines diversity. You make more money buying internally and rerunning lower quality shows.

Cooper later repeated out that the merger eliminates local competition between Comcast and NBC, and it changes the dynamic over broadcast carriage on cable throughout the nation.

Cohen said that even if Comcast doesn’t cut jobs, the merger would make it more expensive for other pipeline companies to compete, and that would force them to cut their investments and cut jobs. Further, he said Comcast/NBCU has made no promise not to cut full employees and replace them with free-lancers.

Testimony summaries:

* Brian Roberts, Comcast: Comcast employs over 100K people. Comcast will be 51% managing partner. Will accelerate “truly amazing” multiplatform digital future for consumers. We’ll be more competitive. More diverse programming on more diverse platforms. Will take steps to make sure competitors remain competitive. Committed to help independent programmers reach an audience, will add two independent cable channels a year beginning in 2011. There will no closures, no layoffs. There are no synergies to exploit, which is why some analysts aren’t cheerleading for this merger. Program access rules work, and will continue to work after this merger.

* Jeff Zucker, NBCU: This deal is critical to realizing benefits, NBCU will benefit from Comcast’s investments. There is far more competition in the entertainment market than back when there were three big broadcast television networks. This deal will not change the new competitive dynamic, but it will help NBCU to compete. Diversity will continue to be a focus of NBCU. Workforce will not face layoffs typical of an average merger.

* Jean M. Prewitt, Independent Film & Television Alliance: Independents are the workhorses in an era of media giants. Provide tons of content, discover talent. Will America continue to be informed and entertained by a diverse pool of creators? This merger must not deny public access to new messengers and new messages. This merger will increase the merged entities to create internal cross-platform synergies that will benefit them, but not consumers and independent creators. Big companies are closing the door on diversity. What’s good for Comcast/NBCU isn’t good for the American public. Conditions must protect consumers and independents. Five companies now produce over 80% of primetime content; independents have declined from 50% to 5%. History will repeat itself, and independents will again be shut out of distribution outlets.

* Thomas W. Hazlett, George Mason University School of Law: Merger is primarily vertical. Does not lessen competition in any one market. The trend in the sector is away from vertical integration. Viacom and Time Warner have been spinning off cable system assets. Good news for consumers is that local MVPD competition is starting to take off, including a cable system, two satellite services and in many places a telco. Comcast is swimming against the tide, gambling it can improve the performance of NBCU. Analysts are split on this, and many are dead set against it. Time Warner thinks that splitting its programming away from cable is the best option, this move is the opposite.

* Mark Cooper, Consumer Federation of America: This merger is not in the public interest, because it eliminates head-to-head rivalry between Comcast and NBCU. Programming concern is particularly strong in local news/sports content, and internet content. Creates the opportunity to deny must-have programming to competitors, and raising the prices of NBCU content to the detriment of consumers. The threat is real and the danger is imminent. Comcast has indicated that it will extend the cable model to the internet. Restricting internet access to cable subscribers is blatantly anticompetitive. Comcast’s promises do not begin to address competition within the industry. Federal authorities must ensure that conditions are enforceable before allowing this merger, including those already pending at the FCC and consideration of new ones. There must be fundamental reform before allowing this to proceed.

* Larry Cohen, Communications Workers of America: 700K members, many in the content area, many working for Comcast and NBCU. Merger will aggravate anticompetitive network behavior, damage internet content model. The merger will in fact lead to the loss of jobs. Comcast will take on debt, and will have to either cut jobs or increase subscription rates, either of which hurts consumers. Comcast has track record of trying to break unions of companies it acquires. There is a litany of anti-union Comcast actions. Comcast fires workers who try to form a union. NBC workers have a collective voice, but Comcast consistently opposes unionism. This merger would allow the entity to increase rates, and raise rates competitors must charge. Comcast/NBC would have the ability to charge new entrants for must have programming, making it harder to enter the market.

* Andrew Schwartzman, Media Access Project: Roberts is motivated by business considerations, not an attempt to undermine democracy, but there is nevertheless antidemocratic potential. Comcast will have more ability to squeeze out diverse voices of independent producers, many of whom even now refuse to testify publicly for fear of retaliation. “There ought to be a law against such abuse, and in fact there is.” Comcast has suggested but has not promised that it will challenge the rule. However, even more fundamental is that the current system doesn’t work – too expensive to pursue. Comcast will be able to withhold programming or force it on competitors at inflated prices. Comcast may agree to be bound by program access rules, but with an expiration date. Still wouldn’t work – if Comcast overcharges itself, it can overcharge everybody else. Comcast may increase retransmission fees for TV, which may be good for TV but that will raise cable rates for everybody. The prospect of consumers saying good-bye to cable and get programming from the internet may be headed off by Comcast’s Xfinity, which will hold key programming and making it available only to Comcast subscribers.

* Marc Morial, National Urban League: GE is selling its interest in NBCU to devote its efforts to its core business. I’d like to see NBCU with an American company; a company with an understanding of communications issues; and a company with a track record of being pro-diversity. NUL is withholding opinion on the merger pending discussions with the companies. However, Comcast deserves respect in this matter. Comcast has good record on diversity, including investment in TV One. Comcast has been a partner to NUL. NBCU has also made strides in its commitment to diversity. There is still much work to be done, particularly in areas of top executives, procurement, governance, philanthropy, programming, including access to capital. Minority businesses should have a fair and equal opportunity to acquire any spin-offs.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

IBEW Brings Superbowl XLIV to Life

Superbowl XLIV was the most watched event in TV history -- and it was brought to you live thanks to members of the IBEW.

Massive Cuts at ABC News; 300-400 Positions to be Eliminated

By Chris Ariens - TVNEWSER

Breaking: ABC News has begun the process of eliminating 300 to 400 positions at the news division by asking employees to participate in a buyout of their services.

In a move that has been rumored for weeks, and coming on the heels of layoffs at CBS News, ABC's cuts are a combination of union and non-union jobs affecting all areas of ABC News.

LA Times' Matea Gold calls it "the most dramatic reshaping of ABC News since Roone Arledge revolutionized the division" and reports: "Anxious staffers are not only fearful about losing their jobs but also are apprehensive about, if they remain, how the restructuring will affect their ability to chase big stories and swarm major news events."

NY Times' Brian Stelter talks to an anonymous insider: "ABC News employees said Tuesday that the reaction to the cutbacks was muted, mostly because the announcement had been expected for weeks. 'Everyone sees the reality of the industry, and everyone wants to stay competitive,' said one employee."

TVNewser spoke with Westin about the cuts, which, he says, don't "have anything to do with seniority or how much anybody gets paid."

Full interview here.

ABC News employees will soon be getting a letter in the mail asking them if they'd like to give up their jobs. It is part of a massive reorganization -- the size of which has not been seen in news division president David Westin's 13 years at the helm.

Some of the changes take effect tomorrow. "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Good Morning America," which had separate weekday and weekend staffs, will now be one. The EP of Weekend GMA, Andrew Morse will now report to the weekday senior EP, Jim Murphy. Same goes for the "World News" production staff.

But this is just the beginning. In the end, 300 to 400 jobs at ABC News will be gone.
Westin said, "The program gives people 30 days to volunteer [from the time they receive their letter]. And we reserve the right to say "no." We will be judicious especially with people who are too valuable. Then we'll see involuntary reductions sometime after that. The expectation is sometime in the next 60-70 days."

Westin continued, "This doesn't have anything to do with seniority or how much anybody gets paid. This has to do with doing our jobs in a better more efficient way; more flexible and nimble. And, yes, in a way that absolutely costs less. There will be less layers, less people touching a piece. I want to be clear on this, Chris: I'm not suggesting we're going to flip a light switch and go 100% digital in the field. We'll have a range, but it'll be substantially different."

Memo from ABC News President David Westin:

Over the past several years, we've seen a lot of changes -- changes atABC News and in the news industry overall. I'm proud of the way we've responded both to unexpected transitions in our programs and to theeconomic realities of our business. We've adapted quickly and effectively and - above all - put our audiences first.

Our programs are stronger today than they were ten years ago. This is a credit first and foremost to the men and women at ABC News.

But all of us are good reporters. We can see that our entire society is in the middle of a revolution -- a revolution in the ways that people get their news and information. The digital age makes our business more competitive than ever before. It also presents us with opportunities we couldn't have imagined to gather, produce, and distribute the news. We can have great success in the new world - but only if we embrace what is new, rather than being overwhelmed by it.

The time has come to anticipate change, rather than respond to it. We have a rare opportunity to get in front of what's coming, to ensure that ABC News has a sound journalistic and financial footing for many years to come, and to serve our audiences even better. But we must move boldly and promptly.

In the past, we've sought out less expensive ways to replicate what we've always done. The time has come to re-think how we do what we are doing.

To that end, we anticipate that between now and the end of the year ABC News will undergo a fundamental transformation that will ultimately affect every corner of the enterprise.

We will be guided by one central principle: In everything, we will ensure that we put our audiences first- providing them with first-rate journalism covering the things that matter the most to them in ways no one else does. And, we will do it with a business model that ensures we will be here for our audiences for many years to come.

The transformation will have six basic components:

1. In newsgathering, we intend to dramatically expand our use of digital journalists. We have proven that this model works at various locations around the world. We believe we can take it much further;

2. In production, we will take the example set by Nightline of editorial staff who shoot and edit their own material and follow it throughout all of our programs, while recognizing that we will continue to rely upon our ENG crews and editors for most of our work;

3. In structure, we will combine our weekday and weekend operations for both Good Morning America and World News;

4. In special events, we will rely upon our program staff through the day and night to cover unexpected events and marshal personnel from across the division to cover scheduled events;

5. In news magazines and long-form programming, we will move to a more flexible blend of staff and freelancers so that we can respond to varying demand for hours through the year;

6. Overall, we will eliminate redundancies wherever possible.

An essential part of this intended transformation will be extensive training in the new technology - whether in the field or in-house. This is an extension of the digital bullpen training we've undertaken already, but it will be on a scale that we have not seen before. This training program and changes it will make possible in all of our operations will make ABC News the place to work in the digital age. We won't just be preparing people for the new world; we will be living in it.

When we are finished, many job descriptions will be different, different skill sets may be required, and, yes, we will likely have substantially fewer people on staff at ABC News. To ease the transition, we are offering a voluntary separation package to all full-time, U.S.-based,non-union, non-contract employees. Information and details of the program will be sent to your home address in the next few days. The response to this voluntary program will determine the extent to which we will need to make further reductions. I encourage everyone to talk with their supervisor if they have any questions.

Any voluntary separation offers for union-represented employees will be in accordance with our obligations under the applicable labor agreement.

Whatever changes we make overseas will be done in compliance with local laws and, where required, include management consultation in advance.

Throughout this process, I will keep you informed of where we are and where we are going with the transformation. Tomorrow, I will discuss this on the 9:30 call, and we will be holding meetings with various groups of staff in New York. Kate O'Brian and I will be in Washington next week to explain what we are planning in person and to take questions. Either Kate or David Reiter will be travelling to the bureaus in the coming days to do the same.

I won't pretend that all of this will be easy. But I do truly believe that it will be good for ABC News. I believe in this institution. I believe in its mission and in its future. As always, I will need your help in making sure that we are as strong as we can be for many years to come.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

CBS Staffers: 'We Were Covering The News With One Arm Tied Behind Our Back. Now We're Going To Do It With Two Arms Tied Behind Our Back.'

By Rachel Kaufman - Media Jobs Daily

CBS News has cut about 90 positions, closing bureaus and cutting staff in others, various sources report.

The Los Angeles Times quotes a staffer, quoting a news exec who was presumably shellshocked by the cuts as well: "We were covering the news with one arm tied behind our back. Now we're going to do it with two arms tied behind our back."

The bureaus in Washington, Los Angeles and London each lost close to a dozen positions; the Moscow bureau has been shuttered, and the Tel Aviv bureau's been reduced to one person.

From TVNewser: Four "Early Show" staffers have been cut, too, as well as eleven staffers in the San Francisco bureau.

Freelancers: Pricing A Project

By Rachel Kaufman - Media Jobs Daily

This is an old, but good post about how designers (and by extension, other freelancers) decide what to charge.

Blue Flavor, a Seattle-based web design agency, breaks down the strategy because "one of the last things a business should hide from a potential client is how pricing works."

The post author, Brian Fling, continues:

When we price out a project we not only price out what we know about the project, but also detail what we don't know. We come up with worst-case scenarios, address risks, and point out all the things we think could impact meeting the goals of the project.

To come up with a number, try using the following formula:

Task x Time(Complexity x Rffort) x Rate = Price

The hourly rate is the easiest to calculate: that's the number you come up with as a freelancer. It's the number you've calculated that you need to make per hour to work the number of hours you want to work and have enough money to cover the expenses you need or want to have.

The task is really the quantity; in Fling's example, he's quoting the price of creating three mockups for a new website, so Task is 3.

Effort is the ideal number of hours it takes you to create one of whatever the Task is: maybe that's 10 hours for a mockup, one hour for a blog post, five hours for a press release.

Complexity, then, is to compensate for any weird things that come up—maybe you're working in an industry new to you, or with a new client, or some other thing that might throw a monkey wrench into the operation.

Of course, Fling says, "when done right, charging by the hour keeps everyone happy."

How do you figure your freelance rates?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fired Philadelphia anchor Larry Mendte finds new home at WPIX/Ch. 11 - with help from Tiger Woods


Former local TV newscaster Larry Mendte admitted in court that he illegally hacked into his co-anchor's e-mail accounts and leaked private information about her. He is now working at WPIX/Ch. 11.

Scandal-scarred Philadelphia anchor Larry Mendte has found a home at WPIX/Ch. 11.

Two years ago, Mendte lost his job at KYW-TV in the City of Brotherly Love when the FBI uncovered evidence he hacked into former co-anchor Alycia Lane's e-mail.

Mendte is now offering commentary for the Tribune-owned station. He made his first appearance last night with a taped piece on Tiger Woods' foibles.

"Larry and I have been friends for 20 years," said Ch. 11 news director Bill Carey, who worked with Mendte in New York at WABC/Ch. 7 and also in Chicago at WBBM-TV.

Mendte began talking to Tribune Broadcasting senior vice president Steve Charlier a while ago about getting back into the business. What developed was the commentary idea.

Carey said Mendte, who will continue to live in Philadelphia with his wife, Dawn Stensland, shot a handful of pieces, one of which was a humorous take on Tiger Woods.

Though they don't have an official deal in place yet - one is expected soon - the sudden announcement of Woods' public apology forced them to go early.

"It just felt like a no-brainer," Carey said.

Once they sign a deal, which Carey is confident will happen, Mendte's taped pieces will appear five nights a week on the 10 p.m. news.

"Part of what we've worked out," Carey said, "is all Tribune stations will have access to his commentaries."

The Mendte-Lane scandal made national headlines when it was revealed he had tapped into her computer and read e-mails.

In December 2007, Lane was involved in a scuffle with a New York City policewoman and was fired at KYW in early 2008. Charges against her were eventually dropped, and she's now working at KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.

In 2008, Mendte pleaded guilty to going into Lane's computer without permission and was sentenced to three years' probation, six months of home confinement and 250 hours of community service.

"Larry's been very public in taking responsibility for what happened," Carey said. "I'm hiring him to be a great on-air talent. I'm not hiring him for the other aspects of his life."

Fired Philly anchor finds new home at Ch. 11

Posted on 2010-02-19 21:08:32
Scandal-scarred Philadelphia anchor Larry Mendte has found a home at WPIX/Ch. 11.

CBS3 anchor gets house arrest for email hack

Posted on 2008-11-25 13:41:12
CBS3 news anchor Larry Mendte, who hacked into a coworker's email and spread rumors that got her fired, has been sentenced to six months of house arrest.

E-mail snoop rap for canned Philly anchor

Posted on 2008-07-21 21:54:47
A longtime TV newscaster was charged Monday with illegally accessing the e-mail of glamorous former co-anchor Alycia Lane, the newswoman busted in New York for fighting with a city cop and yelling anti-gay slurs.

More Larry Mendte Articles from the Daily News

Five Myths About The Labor Union Movement

By Alec MacGillis

The anniversary of the $787 billion economic stimulus act came and went last week with unemployment still holding stubbornly close to 10 percent. The Democrats' universal health-care legislation lies in limbo on Capitol Hill. Where in all of this are the unions -- the historic guardians of the Democrats' economic agenda? Sidelined, sort of.

Labor's top legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, is languishing. Craig Becker, the union lawyer nominated by President Obama to a five-year term on the National Labor Relations Board, hasn't made it to his post. This month, he failed to win enough votes to prevent a filibuster on his nomination, and the president declined to make a recess appointment.

Becker's travails drew a brief flurry of attention to the issue of labor law reform. It might be tempting to dismiss this fraught realm with the old joke about academia -- that the politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low. But this would be wrong, as is so much that is said and written across the political spectrum about organized labor.

1. Organized labor is in inexorable decline.

Not exactly. Organized labor isn't so much shrinking as shifting. The proportion of private-sector workers who are union members continues to drop, to 7.2 percent last year from 7.6 percent in 2008.

But this decline was offset by the ongoing growth of public-sector unions -- 37.4 percent of public employees are now represented by unions.

Today, there are more public employees in unions (7.9 million) than private-sector ones (7.4 million).

Even within the private sector, organized labor's decline isn't irreversible. Much of it is a result of larger economic forces such as the shrinkage of union-dominated manufacturing industries and the expansion of more transient, service and professional jobs where the workers are more difficult to organize.

But there are growing sectors in which unions are making inroads -- low-wage jobs in retail and in health care or elder care, for example. And they would be signing up more workers if the regulatory climate were more favorable.

As manufacturing-heavy as the economy was in the early 20th century, it was only when President Franklin Roosevelt pushed through the pro-union reforms of the New Deal that membership surged, tripling from 12 percent of the workforce in 1930 to 36 percent in 1945.

2. Unions are bad for economic growth.

Economists on the left and the right can debate this one for days.

The pro-labor side has a strong argument:

The period of highest union penetration, from the 1940s to the '70s, was also a period of sustained economic growth.

The other side counters with examples of unions doing harm to their members and industries:

The "jobs bank" that the United Auto Workers maintained for years, paying laid-off workers to do nothing, is a favorite. And labor's foes like to note that states in the South and the West with "right to work" laws restricting unions have successfully lured companies from the North or from abroad.

But at least for now, the most heavily unionized regions -- the Northeast, the Midwest, the Northwest and California -- still hold most of the country's wealthiest states and its most dynamic metro areas.

The more pertinent claim against organized labor may be on the public-sector side, where unions put significant pressure on state budgets, particularly with pension obligations. A new study by the Pew Center on the States finds a $1 trillion gap between what the states have promised their workers and what they've set aside.

3. Labor laws are not the issue -- economics are.

Far from it. Even lawyers who represent employers say the system is badly outdated. There has not been a major change to labor laws since the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.

With no progress on the legislative side, energies have focused on the five-member National Labor Relations Board, the panel of presidential appointees that rules on election disputes and labor complaints appealed by unions and employers.

The NLRB is such a political football that it borders on the dysfunctional. For the past 26 months, only two of its five seats have been filled. This can mean long delays for cases awaiting judgment.

While the Labor Department has far fewer union elections to oversee these days -- 1,343 last year, down from 7,773 in 1970 -- it must process about 25,000 unfair-labor-practice charges per year, including many that arise from nasty jurisdictional disputes between unions.

The two board members, a Democrat and a Republican, have managed to make rulings on 500 or so less-controversial cases, but the weightier disputes have been set aside.
Sixty cases have been pending for two years or more, and of them, 24 go back more than four years. And the Supreme Court is considering whether the two-person board is even allowed to have made the rulings that it did.

4. The Employee Free Choice Act would radically reshape the job market.

Not really. While the proposal would bring the biggest change in generations, it would leave some union challenges unaddressed. The bill as written would let workers form a union if a majority of them sign cards in favor of one, without having to hold a secret-ballot election at the workplace.
Unions argue that such elections are unfairly influenced by employers.

But even before Democrats lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority, they had all but jettisoned that part of the bill -- dubbed "card check" by opponents -- because it lacked support among conservative Democrats.
Instead, the measure would now ease the process by shortening the window before elections, giving employers less time to sway workers, and by increasing the penalties for employer violations, both relatively incremental changes.

Arguably the more consequential part of the bill would be a new requirement: Employers and workers who do not reach a contract within several months after an election would need to submit to an outside mediator.

As it now stands, more than a third of unions that win elections never secure a first contract. Employers ignore them, workers are afraid to strike in protest (strikes occur far less often than they used to), and the union eventually dissolves.

The legislation would not address what Wilma Liebman, the Democratic NLRB member, has argued is the unions' bigger problem. In a speech last week, she said the true challenge is in the economy's growing reliance on temporary and contingent workers and on undocumented immigrants, two categories that are difficult to organize.

5. Unions have the Democrats in their pocket.

They wish. Despite their diminished numbers, unions still pack a powerful punch in national politics -- exit polls show that white, working-class union members in key swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan vote for Democrats at far higher rates than white, working-class voters who are not in unions. And unions certainly have a seat at the table now after lacking one during the Bush years.

Whereas then-AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was invited to the White House only once -- for the pope's visit in 2008 -- Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern is now among the most frequent visitors to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

But what do they have to show for it? Obama has held off on pushing the Employee Free Choice Act. Union leaders were told to wait until health-care reform was done, and now even the compromise labor bill may be doomed with the loss of the 60th Democratic vote in the Senate.

Obama's and the Senate's preferred funding source for universal health care is a tax on high-cost health plans, opposed by the unions; the White House had agreed to labor-friendly revisions, but they are now in doubt.

And then there is Becker. Obama has indicated that he will not install him in a recess appointment, even though his predecessor, George W. Bush, used recess appointments to install seven of his eight NRLB nominees. The unions are grumbling: If this is how their hard work in 2008 is repaid, don't expect much from labor's foot soldiers this fall in Altoona, Akron or Fort Wayne.

Alec MacGillis is a reporter on the national staff of The Washington Post.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jim Rohn Is Gone, But his Wisdom Lives On.

Legendary business philosopher, Jim Rohn, passed away December 5, 2009, and was laid to rest Saturday, December 12, 2009, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

The Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Jim Rohn event was held in Anaheim, California, on Saturday, February 6, 2010.

Family, long-time friends and many special guest speakers, including Anthony Robbins, Les Brown, Brian Tracy, Chris Widener, Denis Waitley and Darren Hardy, paid tribute to Jim by sharing their thoughts and insights on some of his most powerful success principles. The event was attended by more than 1,300 people whose lives have been impacted by the wisdom of Jim Rohn.

For more than 40 years, Jim Rohn honed his craft like a skilled artist—helping people the world over sculpt life strategies that have expanded their imagination of what is possible. Those who had the privilege of hearing him speak can attest to the elegance and common sense of his material.

It is no coincidence, then, that he is widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of our time, and thought of by many as a national treasure. Jim authored countless books and audio and video programs, and helped motivate and shape an entire generation of personal-development trainers and hundreds of executives from America’s top corporations.

Born to an Idaho farming family in the mid-1900s, Jim was ingrained with a work ethic that has served him well throughout his life. At 25, he met his mentor Earl Shoaff. And over the next six years he made his first fortune, yet didn’t get into speaking until he moved to Beverly Hills, California, when a friend at the Rotary Club asked him to tell his success story, which Rohn titled “Idaho Farm Boy Makes It to Beverly Hills.”

His speech went over so well that he received more invitations to share it, and better yet, they started paying him for it. In the beginning, he spoke in front of college and high-school classes and at service clubs, before moving on to seminars in 1963, which launched him into the personal-development business. From then on, Jim Rohn became a trailblazer in the self help and personal development industry, impacting the lives of millions through his life-changing material.

Jim Rohn focused on the fundamentals of human behavior that most affect personal and business performance. His is the standard to which those who seek to teach and inspire others are compared. He possessed the unique ability to bring extraordinary insights to ordinary principles and events, and the combination of his substance and style captures the imagination of those who hear or read his words.

Jim is known as one of the great wordsmiths of our time. Here is a sampling from Jim’s Treasury of Quotes that reflect on his philosophy on life and business:Skills:

Don’t wish it were easier; wish you were better.
Don’t wish for less problems; wish for more skills.
Don’t wish for less challenges; wish for more wisdom.

Growth: Don’t join an easy crowd. You won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform and achieve are high.

Change: We generally change ourselves for one of two reasons: inspiration or desperation.

Activity: The few who do are the envy of the many who watch.

Success: Success is what you attract by the person you become.

Click Here to read more inspiring quotes from Jim Rohn.

Jim shared his message with more than 6,000 audiences and over 5 million people all over the world. He received numerous industry awards including the coveted National Speakers Association CPAE Award and the Master of Influence Award. Jim’s philosophies and influence continue to have worldwide impact. To connect with thousands of people Jim has inspired and influenced, visit the Jim Rohn Fan Page on Facebook.

Bob Oedy, a union organizer in Los Angeles and editor of, wrote:

At the memorial service for Jim Rohn they played a video of Jim reciting the Parable of the Sower was played. He related it to selling but the same could be said for union organizing.

The story goes like this…..

The sower went out to plant seed in the field but some fell by the way side and the birds ate it.

How many times have you been on a job site distributing leaflets or business cards to non-union workers and they discard the information? It happens. You can’t let it bother you though.

Some seed fell upon rock and it sprang up quickly and withered away due to lack of moisture.

See not all the workers we organize will stay union and some will go back to work non-union but we’ve got to keep on organizing.

Some seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew and choked it.

Have you ever had a candidate fail a drug test or quit after some ignorant coworker got a hold of him? Damn! The thorns must have got ‘em. Just keep on organizing.

Other seed fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bared fruit a hundredfold.

In other words, if you keep at it long enough your organizing efforts will pay off for your union. See the sower is ambitious, like most successful organizers. The sower doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the seed that gets eaten by the birds or grows and gets choked by the thorns. That’s just part of the process.

In the same way we shouldn’t be discouraged by leaflets that get thrown in the trash or the candidate who schedules an appointment and doesn’t show up. Who knows why certain people repel opportunity? They just do……..

Don’t get upset about it. It will rob you of your ambition.

Some organizers have a tendency to want to go back and analyze every situation, retrace their steps and try over again with the same candidate. It’s often a waste of time. With experience comes wisdom and soon most realize it’s more productive to focus on planting new seeds and ignoring the one’s who don’t work out for whatever reason.

Well, I hope this helps. Keep sowing and eventually your efforts will bare fruit a hundredfold.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Judge Approves Extension for Tribune Reorganization Plan

By RITA K. FARRELL The New York Times
With additional material By By RANDALL CHASE AP Business Writer

A federal judge on Thursday gave the Tribune Company more time to file a reorganization plan for exiting Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Chief Judge Kevin J. Carey of the United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware extended the deadline to March 31 from Feb. 28 after a restructuring specialist hired by Tribune, David Kurtz of Lazard, testified at a hearing that that the company needed time to achieve “a global and hopefully consensual resolution.”

Under questioning by a Tribune lawyer, James Bendernagel Jr. of Sidley & Austin, Mr. Kurtz described himself as an “honest broker” and said progress was being made.

Judge Carey said he supported an extension because it “would facilitate moving the case forward.”
The judge, who said he was not eager to see the case fall into what one creditors' attorney described as a "litigation morass," said the extension of time may be Tribune's "last, best opportunity" to achieve a resolution acceptable to all parties.
David Kurtz, a managing director with Tribune's financial adviser, Lazard Ltd., said negotiations had reached a "delicate stage." If Tribune were not allowed more time, it would be forced to submit a reorganization plan with a proposed global settlement that likely would be challenged in court, delaying or derailing a negotiated settlement, he said.

"When litigation begins, people retreat into litigation mode," said Kurtz, who noted that fees for attorneys and other professionals already are costing Tribune's bankruptcy estate $8 million to $10 million a month.

Creditors generally agreed not to challenge the extension by the judge, who also postponed until April 13 a hearing on a motion filed by a group of bondholders who want an examiner appointed to investigate the leveraged buyout that the real estate tycoon Sam Zell used to take Tribune private in December 2007. In addition, the judge delayed hearing a request from the company’s committee of unsecured creditors for permission to pursue litigation against the banks that financed the buyout.

In court papers, the holders of $1.2 billion in subordinated debt contended that the leveraged buyout was a “strange cure for the adverse business environment for media companies” and accused Tribune, which owns The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and The Baltimore Sun, among other papers, of transferring property to a receiver that knew the intent was to defraud debtors.

Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The (Baltimore) Sun and other dailies, along with 23 TV stations, filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2008 because of dwindling advertising revenue and a crushing debt load of $13 billion, much of it stemming from the buyout. The leveraged buyout added $9 billion to Tribune’s debt load, driving it into bankruptcy a year later in December 2008.

The paid advisers for the L.B.O. were JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Citicorp North America, Bank of America and Barclays Bank. The same banks also became the senior secured lenders for the leveraged buyout, according to court papers.

In objecting to the postponement of the examiner motion, Robert J. Stark, a lawyer for the Wilmington Trust Company, told Judge Carey: “No one is talking to us. No one. I was ejected from the room when I asked to join in the settlement” discussions. He predicted that “if this is put off for 30 days, we’re going to have a trial at confirmation time.”

After the hearing, Mr. Stark said, “What’s going on in this case right now is a value allocation issue between the bonds and the banks,” with bondholders claiming the right to most of the estate and the banks to all of it.

'The primary targets of the estate litigation remain at the helm of the company, that being Sam Zell and his colleagues,” Mr. Stark said. “All that we heard today is that they’re engaged in negotiations with the other primary target, the L.B.O. banks. Having Sam Zell as ‘honest broker’ between the banks and the bonds is a strange proposition for us.”

Boss Gives Company to Workers - ABC News

See the video:
Boss Gives Company to Workers - ABC News

On 81st birthday, Oregon man gives company to employees

The Oregonian

MILWAUKIE, Ore. — Scores of employees gathered to help Bob Moore celebrate his 81st birthday this week at the company that bears his name, Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods.

Moore, whose mutual love of healthful eating and old-world technologies spawned an internationally distributed line of products, responded with a gift of his own — the whole company. The Employee Stock Ownership Plan that Moore unveiled means that his 209 employees now own the place and its 400 offerings of stone-ground flours, cereals and bread mixes.

"This is Bob taking care of us," said Lori Sobelson, who helps run the business' retail operation. "He expects a lot out of us, but really gives us the world in return."

Moore declined to say how much he thinks the company is worth. In 2004, however, one business publication estimated that year's revenue at more than $24 million. A company news release issued this week stated that Bob's Red Mill has chalked up an annual growth rate of between 20 percent and 30 percent every year since.

"In some ways I had a choice," Moore said of what he could have done with the company he founded with his wife, Charlee, in 1978. "But in my heart, I didn't. These people are far too good at their jobs for me to just sell it."

It's not that the offers aren't there. Hardly a day goes by that Nancy Garner, Moore's executive assistant, doesn't field a call or letter from someone wanting to buy the privately held company or take it public.

"I had four messages waiting when I returned from a recent vacation," she said. "Three of them were buyout offers." Garner said she and other employees are floored by Moore's plan, under which any worker with at least three years tenure is now fully vested.

"We're still learning all of the details," Garner said, "but it's very humbling to be part of a company that cares this much about its employees."

An employee stock-ownership plan, or ESOP, is a retirement plan in which the company contributes its stock to the plan to be held in trust for the benefit of its employees. The stock is never bought or held directly.

Vested employees are sent annual reports detailing their respective stakes in the company. When those employees quit or retire, they receive in cash whatever amount they — and the company, through increased revenues, new sales and controlled costs — are due.

"Eventual payouts could be substantial," said John Wagner, the company's chief financial officer and, along with Moore, one of four partners.

Moore said he began thinking about succession about nine years ago. He'd heard about employee-stock-option programs and got much more serious about the idea three years ago.

That Moore has now pulled off what few other company owners would even dream about comes as no surprise to longtime acquaintances, such as Glenn Dahl, owner of NatureBake bakery in Milwaukie.

"Bob's a force of nature," said Dahl, whose family's Gresham-area bakery was Moore's first wholesale customer in the 1970s. "He's always been that way. He gets an idea and just makes sure it happens, one way or the other."

Moore's own background is in electrical and mechanical engineering, but he fell in love with the mechanics of stone grinding in the 1960s after reading about old stone-grinding flour mills.
At about the same time, Charlee began sharing with him her delvings into the nutritional benefits of eating whole-grain foods. The couple put their passions to work by starting, with their three sons, their first milling operation in Redding, Calif.

In 1978, the couple moved to Portland to retire. Moore's idea at the time, reflecting his long-held sense of spirituality, was to learn the Bible in its original languages. A chance walk past a closed mill site near Oregon City changed everything.

"I call it my emotional epiphany," Moore said. "Whatever excuse I care to give, I was just sucked into it like a vortex."

A 1988 arson destroyed the mill, when Moore was 60. Undeterred, he rebuilt the operation, moved once because of space needs and now occupies a 15-acre production facility and a two-acre headquarters and retail outlet along Oregon 224 in Milwaukie.

Three production shifts, running six days a week, turn out a line of goods distributed throughout North America, Asia and the Middle East.

The company earned an extra splash of international recognition when a team traveled to Scotland and, apparently feeling its oats, won the world's porridge-making championship.
Employees are just now grasping the meaning of Moore's birthday gift.

"It just shows how much faith and trust Bob has in us," said Bo Thomas, the company's maintenance superintendent, who has put his four children through college during his two decades there. "For all of us, it's more than just a job. Obviously, it's the same way for Bob, too."
For Moore, meanwhile, nothing about the new arrangement will change a thing. He plans to do for the foreseeable future what he has done every day for decades.

"I may have given them the company," he said, chuckling, "but the boss part is still mine."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

KCNC In On Denver Chopper Share

By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable

Fourteen months after Denver rivals KMGH and KUSA entered into a helicopter share, CBS O&O KCNC will be in on the mile-high pact as well. April 1 marks the day the trio commences sharing a helicopter.

KMGH is owned by McGraw-Hill and KUSA is owned by Gannett. The two began sharing the aircraft last February. KCNC's entry into the agreement was previously reported in the Denver Post. KCNC will be "taking the video feed, not participating in operational decisions," KMGH news director Jeff Harris told the Post.

All three will maintain their editorial independence. Helicopter shares are increasingly popular among rival stations, due to the high costs involved with deploying them.

In Phoenix, for example, the Meredith, Belo and Gannett stations share helicopter footage.In October, the KUSA-KMGH chopper chased after the balloon thought to be carrying young Falcon Heene high above the Denver market.

NBC in Talks to Partner with KRON

By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable

Young Broadcasting shopping for shared services agreement for beleaguered San Francisco flagship

NBC is in advanced negotiations to partner with Young Broadcasting's KRON San Francisco, according to bankruptcy court documents filed last week.

A brief filed by Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, the law firm representing Young in bankruptcy, said Comcast's deal to acquire a majority stake in NBC does not affect the progress made in talks to work out a shared services agreement between KRON and NBC, which owns KNTV in San Jose.

KRON would presumably operate out of KNTV headquarters should the deal be worked out.

NBC Local Media apparently isn't the only network-owned group interested in a management role at KRON. "The negotiations with NBC have progressed," reads the brief, "and there is at least one other network interested."

"There have been some discussions around shared technical services," NBC said in a statement, "but there is no agreement at this point."

A spokesperson from Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal said, "I can't give you any details" on the negotiations with multiple networks and asked that word of the KRON-NBC negotiations not be published. An ABC spokesperson said the network is not in negotiations with KRON. A CBS spokesperson said CBS is not involved in any negotiations between KRON and Young.

That NBC and Young would sit at the negotiating table might stun some industry watchers. Young famously acquired KRON, then an NBC affiliate, for the mammoth sum of $823 million in 1999 after outbidding NBC. KRON lost its NBC affiliation at the end of 2001. The affiliation went to KNTV, which NBC purchased for $230 million in 2002.

KRON is now affiliated with MyNetworkTV, and its value is a crumb of what it once was. Briefs filed in bankruptcy court set KRON's stick value between $25 and $50 million.

A partnership with KRON would expand NBC's presence in the No. 6 DMA. KNTV is in San Jose, which is about 45 miles from San Francisco. NBC also owns the local Telemundo outlet KSTS. Insiders say NBC may also be keen to control more ad inventory in the Bay Area.

Should the plan for a shared services agreement regarding KRON not come to fruition, Young plans to sell the KRON building in San Francisco and move to a smaller facility in a less expensive part of town. "The move would represent a substantial net positive to Young," reads the brief, "because KRON's real estate has been appraised ‘in the ten million [dollar] plus range,'" while the capital expenditure for a new facility would be $5 million or less.

Young Broadcasting filed for bankruptcy in February 2009. Lawyers representing a coalition of senior secured creditors and a second group of unsecured creditors are due to file final briefs regarding Young's bankruptcy strategy today, which a judge will rule on. Among the items at stake is a plan for Gray Television to manage seven of the 10 Young stations, not including KRON. That arrangement would pay Gray an annual fee of $2.2 million and incentives.

Young called off an auction for its stations in July after the preliminary bids failed to pass
muster. The brief says KRON is doing better than some might expect, after restructuring its syndication expenses and other cost-cutting measures.

"Young now anticipates that KRON will make a profit of approximately $2 million in 2010," it reads, "a projection that is based upon expenses that are already ‘a known number' from the restructuring process and projected revenues that are ‘rather conservative.'"

Bankruptcy Judge Signs Off on Young Deal
Young Broadcasting Calls Off Auction
Life Goes On at KRON
Young Puts KRON On the Block

Tell President Obama To Fill The Vacancies On America's Labor Board Immediately!

Tell President Obama to fill the vacancies on America's Labor Board immediately!

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – which is tasked with protecting workers' rights – needs five members to be a full, functioning board.

But since December 2007, the NLRB has only had two members. Now, obstructionist U.S. senators have refused to act to fill the vacancies.

That's right: It's been over two years, and the situation for workers in America is bleak. And things will continue to stay broken unless President Obama acts this week.

To make sure that happens, we need your help. Tell President Obama to use his authority and fill the NLRB now!

It seems that the President has cut a deal. He'll hold off on some of his nominees to key government posts – including two highly respected labor lawyers we desperately need on the NLRB – if it means other nominees can get through to Senate.

But with the Senate on recess this week, a deal isn't necessary. President Obama can simply appoint these nominees – Craig Becker and Mark Pearce – and give workers the protection they've gone so long without.

Tell President Obama: Enough with the deals – stand up to obstructionist senators and protect America's workers!

Our Constitution gives President Obama the authority to make recess appointments. President Bush did it all the time. America's workers can't wait any longer for Obama to use his authority.
For a full year, hostile senators have blocked or watered down nearly every key piece of legislation America's workers need – from the Employee Free Choice Act and healthcare reform, to creating good, green jobs and regulating the finance industry. And now President Obama has cut those same obstructionists a deal that leaves working families out in the cold.

In exchange for approving some of Obama's "less controversial" nominees – who they should have approved a long time ago anyway – they get to keep the NLRB understaffed and ineffective. It's just what the obstructionists want. And hasn't President Obama spent enough time playing nice?!

Tell President Obama: Enough playing nice! Make the recess appointments that working people need – this week!

Obama's NLRB nominees are well respected and highly qualified. Both have won broad support in the Senate. And we desperately need both to get to work on the backlog of cases before the NLRB.

Tell Obama: Let's stop the delays and get these nominees to work for working people!

Tell President Obama to fill the vacancies on America's Labor Board immediately!

Thanks for all you do to defend workers' rights.

- Manny, Liz and the American Rights at Work team

Protesters Block Streets As First Disney Fast Ends

The Orange County Register

Eight union members broke a weeklong hunger strike tonight as about 500 supporters blocked streets to protest Disney’s stance on a two-year contract dispute.

The hotel union, Unite Here Local 11, planned to continue the hunger strike with four new fasters at Walt Disney Co.’s headquarters in Burbank late tonight.

Disney and the union have been in stuck in a contract dispute, mostly over health care costs. The union is fighting to keep its own health care plan with no employee contributions, while Disney wants hotel workers to pay for benefits. Both parties say they intend to meet with a federal mediator, but no dates have been set.

“While the fast was happening, we could have been meeting,” said Suzi Brown, a Disneyland Resort spokeswoman.

Before the protest, a roadside marquee notified Katella Avenue drivers that Disneyland Drive would be closed from 5 to 7 p.m. For about an hour, police put up cones and directed traffic as picketers obstructed the northbound lanes between the Paradise Pier and Grand Californian hotels, near where fasters have camped all week.

Disney officials estimate that up to 200 protesters were Disney employees.

The eight hunger strikers ended their fast by eating bread and juice given by John Wilhelm, the international president of Unite Here. Before blocking the streets, the fasters were pushed in wheelchairs into the Grand Californian lobby to confront a Disney official.
We are never going to back off of our demands and we will never accept yours. We will fight for as long as it takes,” said Kristi Richards, a hotel cashier. Jim Doyle, Disneyland Resort operations manager of security who is not involved in negotiations, did not respond.

The new fasters who are going to Burbank are: Whitney Rupp, a bartender and server at the Disneyland Hotel, who started Sunday; Josh Stern, a bellman at the Disneyland Hotel, who began Monday; John Hughes, a bellman at Paradise Pier Hotel, who began Monday, and Salud Paz, a union member who works at Hilton Irvine, who started today. The Burbank hunger strike is set to end Thursday.

Photos by Joshua Sudock, The Orange County Register

Independent Examiner Urged In Tribune Bankruptcy Dispute

By Michael Oneal, Tribune reporter

In advance of what promises to be a closely watched hearing Thursday in Tribune Co.'s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, the U.S. trustee's office asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey to appoint an examiner to investigate charges that Sam Zell's 2007 leveraged buyout of the Chicago-based media conglomerate was improper.

The move supports a motion filed by a deeply subordinated group of Tribune Co. bondholders represented by Wilmington Trust Co. that has argued that the transaction was an example of "fraudulent conveyance," meaning the debt-heavy LBO itself rendered Tribune Co. bankrupt from the start.

Wilmington Trust's filing came in response to an earlier motion by the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which petitioned Carey for permission to file its own complaint alleging fraudulent conveyance against the senior lenders and various other parties involved in the 2007 deal.

The difference is, Wilmington Trust said that the creditor's committee is unlikely to bring a strong enough case because of conflicts of interest. An independent examiner, it argued, would be better suited to pursue the claims without bias.

An attorney for the U.S. trustee, which is charged with enforcing bankruptcy laws, offered no opinion on the merits of a fraudulent conveyance case. But she agreed with Wilmington Trust that it was important that an independent examiner scrutinize the evidence. An arbiter who is not conflicted, she argued, likely would speed up a settlement between the myriad constituencies battling over Tribune Co.'s assets.

Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune, and its senior creditors likely would be the defendants in a fraudulent conveyance case if the judge allows it and, not surprisingly, have argued against it. Tribune Co. contends that further litigation would only generate more confusion and expense. The company has asked for more time to negotiate a settlement, which would take the potential charges into account.

Tribune has been trying to get creditors with the largest claims in the bankruptcy to agree to a plan that splits the company among them and avoids a lawsuit over the buyout. Those creditors include bondholders, hedge funds that hold bank debt, and banks that funded the more than $8 billion buyout.

The committee will seek to recover as much as $2.5 billion paid to prior lenders, $2 billion in principal and interest payments on the new debt, and $200 million in fees collected by the buyout lenders.

The buyout dispute pits bondholders owed as much as $1.26 billion against the hedge funds and JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, the agent for another lender group.

The bondholders, including Law Debenture Trust Co. of New York and Centerbridge Credit Advisors, hold most of the debentures issued in 1996, which are due in 2027 and 2096. The hedge funds include Anchorage Advisors LLC, Contrarian Funds LLC and KKR Strategic Capital Holdings I.

One large group of senior creditors has opposed giving Tribune Co. more time. It has offered a separate blueprint for reorganizing Tribune Co. assets that essentially would dodge the fraudulent conveyance charges.

The committee says there are grounds for objecting to $10 billion in claims asserted by the LBO lenders against the operating companies. In addition, the committee wants to have permission from the judge to sue to recover $2.5 billion paid to prior lenders, $2 billion in principal and interest payments on the new debt, and $200 million in fees to the LBO lenders.

The committee's proposed complaint was filed in secret with the bankruptcy judge who must decide if the complaint will be made public.

The Feb. 18 hearing will also see the company asking for an extension until June 8 of the exclusive right to propose a Chapter 11 plan. The company promised that if a plan wasn't filed before the hearing it would tell the court about progress toward a plan that includes a global settlement or one that provides a framework for resolving issues that have divided creditor classes.

Late last year, senior secured lenders owed $4.4 billion didn't succeed in their effort at being allowed to propose a reorganization plan for the operating subsidiaries. By taking the operating companies out of bankruptcy, they would have left the holding company in bankruptcy while everyone litigates over the alleged fraudulent transfers.

The Chapter 11 reorganization, begun in December 2008, has been hung up in investigations over whether the leveraged buyout gave rise to fraudulent transfer claims. Tribune listed $13 billion in debt for borrowed money and assets of $7.6 billion. It owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, six other newspapers and 23 television stations.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Best Safe Sex PSA Ever!!

This is the best Safe Sex Public Service Announcement I've ever seen!!

Planned Closure of Hugo Boss Plant in Brooklyn Raises Questions of Fairness

By Olivera Perkins, The Plain Dealer
February 14, 2010, 10:00AM

Tracy Boulian, The Plain DealerSusan Brown, center, political coordinator of the Workers United union, talks to Hugo Boss workers near Nordstrom at Beachwood Place recently. The union believes that activities like this can raise public awareness that will put pressure on Hugo Boss not to close the Brooklyn plant that makes suits sold at Nordstrom.

Wanda Navarro's $13-an-hour job at the Hugo Boss plant in Brooklyn was the best she ever had. So when the owners talked about shuttering the factory, she had to do something.

The woman who describes herself as more of a wallflower became a leader in the union's effort to keep the suit-making plant from closing.

Navarro marched in protest in front of the plant with fellow workers. With wind chills in single digits, she demonstrated at Beachwood Place, where Nordstrom sells high-end Hugo Boss suits. She and other union members even handed out leaflets at the Davis Cup tennis finals in Barcelona, which the German company co-sponsored.

The drive by Workers United, which represents 311 of the roughly 375 employees at the plant, is both determined and doubtful. It seems unlikely that Hugo Boss will reverse its decision, but the effort itself draws attention to two longstanding employment issues:

Is it greed or responsible management when a company moves a profitable business abroad to make yet more money?

And should the United States try to preserve unskilled manufacturing jobs, or do they have little place in a restructuring American economy?

"We're in a tough fight, but we are pressing our case," said Joe Costigan, treasurer of the union's midwest region based in Chicago. He is working with the Cleveland local on the plant closing.
"We have to draw a line in the sand and say: 'Can we figure out a way to keep these jobs in the country, particularly when you have a company that is far from going out of business and wants to sell its products in this country?' " Costigan said. "If we can't fight to retain manufacturing jobs in this country, it means that we as a nation have a bleak economic future."

Hugo Boss officials see it differently.

"The reason for this decision is a significant under-utilization of capacity of this production facility and the fact that it was not globally competitive with the company's other facilities abroad," the company said in an e-mail.

Hugo Boss says it can make more money by moving the suit-making jobs overseas, where the work can be done for 28 percent to 40 percent less.

The debate about plant closings has existed in Cleveland and other manufacturing cities for more than 30 years.

For Navarro, it has to continue. There is no way she and her husband can afford their $900 monthly mortgage without her 10-year Hugo Boss job.

"We helped them to make a good profit," Navarro said. "Why don't they give us a chance? A chance to have a good job and earn an honest wage."

Added Sheila McVay, who has worked at the plant for 28 years, "There are no jobs that are going to pay us decent money like we're making now.

"We didn't think this was going to happen to us. We were dealing with a company that was doing well."

A company has the right to go after the highest profits, even if it means moving work abroad where suits can be made more cheaply, said Edward "Ned" Hill, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, and an economic development expert.

"It would be a breach of business ethics if this company didn't close down the facility to move it where it could earn its highest profit," Hill said. "It is its fiduciary responsibility to its stockholders."

While the case can be made to save high-paying manufacturing jobs, it doesn't make economic sense for most companies to pay U.S. wages for unskilled labor, Hill said.

Some experts agree that the company has an obligation to maximize its profits, even if it costs U.S. jobs. Other people, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, assert that Hugo Boss should keep jobs here if it wants to expand sales in the U.S..

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, who recently met with workers at the plant, said there is a place for such jobs in this country. He wrote to company officials asking them to reconsider closing the plant. He is even looking for buyers for the facility, he said.

"If Hugo Boss wants to expand its sales and its profits in the United States, they ought to make some of their clothes here," Brown said. "They would probably get a lot of good publicity by doing it."

During union negotiations last year, the company told workers it wanted to lower wages from $13 an hour to $8.30, said Dallas Sells, the union's state director.

"They never said this plant is unprofitable," he said. The company said it could make the clothing for 28 percent to 40 percent less by going to Europe, he said.

Company officials would not confirm the figures. Hugo Boss has a facility in Turkey and contract workers in Romania and Bulgaria.

Mark Milko, president of the local, said the company demanded more than pay cuts.
"All they talked about was needing a subsidy," he said.

When local and state officials learned the company might leave, they looked into whether public money was available to help keep the Tiedeman Road plant in Brooklyn. In December, the union, company officials and elected officials met with Gov. Ted Strickland's staff in Columbus to discuss options for saving the garment workers jobs.

"Everybody felt optimistic when we left the meeting," said Susan Brown, the union's political coordinator.

Then a few days after Christmas, the same hand-delivered letter arrived at each employee's home.

Andreas Stockert, chief operating officer of Hugo Boss' parent company, Hugo Boss AG, wrote that the company had negotiated in good faith with the union.

"Unfortunately, it is clear that our efforts have failed," Stockert wrote. "Looking at the company's goals, which were driven by our customer preferences and our shareholder responsibilities, it is our conclusion and decision that it is time to close the Cleveland plant, effective April 27, 2010."

The letter made no mention about the meetings with Strickland's office.

Both the union and Strickland viewed the company's participation in the meeting as insincere.
"Multiple attempts have been made to reach out to Hugo Boss decision-makers to discuss what the state could do to help keep the jobs in Ohio," said Amanda Wurst, Strickland's spokeswoman. "Attempts to arrange even a phone call after the meeting have fallen on deaf ears."

In a letter Feb. 3 to Mark Brashear, chairman of Hugo Boss USA, Strickland asked the company to reconsider closing the plant.

A week later, in a response to the governor, Stockert left little hope.

"We listened to our employee representatives for months and, at their suggestion, met with your administration in December," he wrote. "Through the course of that process, it became apparent that neither your administration nor the union are in a position to change the economic realities in our business."

The atmosphere at the plant is one of a business about to pack up and leave town. The huge bolts of fabric are running low, and no new shipments have come in. Used-equipment buyers frequently show up ready to look at machinery and place bids.

But the union has not lost hope. While in Lorain County recently, President Barack Obama publicaly referred to Costigan, the union official from Chicago, as "a friend of mine" and spoke with him after the meeting. Costigan said he told the president about the union's fight with Hugo Boss.

"He is aware of what the circumstance is," Costigan said. "We're talking to some of the folks in his administration and some of his economic advisers."

An administration official said only, "The administration has been in contact with state and national labor leaders on the issue."

McVay, the Hugo Boss worker, also attended Obama's town hall meeting in Elyria. She got to shake the president's hand, but she didn't get to say this to him:

"My company is closing. Our jobs are going overseas. What can you do to help us?"

The union says an even crueler irony is that while the company wants to close the plant, it has set goals for dramatically expanding its U.S. market. The company says it wants to employ Americans, but not in manufacturing.

"We have an aggressive growth strategy in the United States that targets creating jobs in sales functions," the company's e-mail said.

Stuart Muszynski, president and chief operating officer of Project Love, agrees with the workers. His group promotes honorable business practices and gives out the annual Malden Mills Corporate Kindness Award, which honors a business leader who demostrates the values of businessman Aaron Feuerstein. Feuerstein was chief executive of a Massachusetts mill that continued to pay employees while the mill was rebuilt after a fire.

"The bottom line should not be the only consideration, even in these economic times," Muszynski said of the Hugo Boss situation.

Navarro, the worker, was more direct. "They're just being greedy," she said.

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