Thursday, April 29, 2010

RALLY & MARCH ON WALL STREET with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

WHAT: Good Jobs Now Rally
(followed by march down Broadway)
WHEN: Thursday, April 29 4:00-6:00pm
WHERE: City Hall: enter at Broadway &
Chambers St.

Wall Street tanked America’s economy, killed jobs, took $700 billion in taxpayer bailouts—then went right back to business as usual, choking off credit, handing out $145 billion in 2009 executive pay and bonuses and fighting meaningful financial reform.

We’re 11 million jobs in the hole and it’s time for the financial industry to pay up to create them.

Join AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and thousands of union and community activists from across the country marching down Broadway in the heart of the financial district on April 29 to MAKE WALL STREET PAY.

See you there. For information contact the New York City Central Labor Council at 212-604-9552 or

Sponsoring Union/Labor Council/Organization for this event:The AFL-CIO
Address: Broadway and Barclay, New York, NY 10007

No one needs to tell America’s families that unemployment and underemployment are at crisis levels. We need jobs—and we need them now.

Wall Street has gotten its bailouts. Now it’s time for Main Street to get some immediate help.

The AFL-CIO is calling on Congress and the Obama administration to take five steps now to care for jobless workers and put America back to work.

1. Extend the lifeline for jobless workers.
2. Rebuild America’s schools, roads and energy systems.
3. Increase aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services.
4. Put people to work doing work that needs to be done.
5. Put TARP funds to work for Main Street.

America’s jobs situation would be even more dire without the economic stimulus program President Obama and Congress enacted, which has saved or created 1 million jobs. But the depth of this crisis demands that we do more—and that we do it now, before more people lose their jobs, their homes, their health care and their hope.

Join us in the fight for good jobs or for more information, call the NYC CLC at 212-604-9552.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ABC News Completes Cuts; 350-400 Jobs Slashed

By Chris Ariens

The process of cutting up to 25% of the jobs at ABC News is all but complete.

Twenty two ABC News employees were laid off in a round of involuntary cuts yesterday. Those layoffs came after more than 300 staffers, many more than had been anticipated, agreed to take a voluntary buyout. In February, ABC News president David Westin announced a massive reorganization which meant staff cuts between 300-400. The actual number, between 350-400, is right in line with that expectation. In addition, TVNewser has learned, 39 staffers were promoted to positions being vacated by those taking a buyout.

In a note to staff today, obtained by TVNewser, Westin writes, "We have much yet to do as we move to make full use of what new technology makes possible and we implement fully the structural and organizational changes that we've begun throughout the division. The full extent of these changes will be realized over the summer and into the fall."

The cuts come from across the network and from around the world. In bureaus and from broadcast shows and from every platform as well as the businesses that support the news division.

The special events unit has effectively been dismantled with the shows and anchors now responsible for producing and anchoring breaking news special reports depending on the time of day. The unit, headed by longtime ABC News staffer Marc Burstein, will continue to plan long-range special programming including election coverage and the production of obituaries of the well-known.

The buyout, a standard severance plus 20%, may have been attractive enough for the 300+ who took up ABC's offer. One insider tells us there was concern early on that only a few dozen might volunteer, meaning the layoffs would have been much greater. The remaining staff cuts will occur over the next few months as the contracts of some employees expire.

David Westin's note:

From: Westin, David L.
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 1:39 PM
To: #ABCTV News ALLCc: Sweeney, Anne X.Subject: Transformation

As you know, our original timetable for making a wide range of personnel changes called for us to be at or near completion by the end of this week. We have reached that point, and I thought it time to give you an update.

Many more people elected to take the voluntary package or a buy-out of their contract than we anticipated when we began the process. Unfortunately, however, there were a few of our colleagues that we still had to lay off earlier this week. This has been a difficult time for everyone - and most especially for those who are leaving us. We wish them well and thank them for their service.

Now it is time to look to the future. We have much yet to do as we move to make full use of what new technology makes possible and we implement fully the structural and organizational changes that we've begun throughout the division. The full extent of these changes will be realized over the summer and into the fall.

Thank you to everyone who has made it possible to do what we've had to do and - most important - have continued to report the news in keeping with the highest traditions of ABC News. ABC News is now prepared for the future; prepared first and foremost editorially and creatively but also prepared economically and technically. From this base, we are positioned to grow and to do even greater work than we have in the past.

• Related, Los Angeles Times' Matea Gold: "...staffers within the news division describe the cutbacks as an excruciating and demoralizing chapter that has left many of them questioning how the pared-down news division will be able to compete."

• TVNEWSER earlier coverage:

Feb. 23: Westin on ABC Cuts: "This Doesn't Have Anything to do with Seniority or How Much Anybody Gets Paid"
March 24: Brian Rooney, Laura Marquez, Lisa Fletcher Among the ABC News Correspondents Cut
March 26: Deadline for ABC News Voluntary Buyouts is Today
April 2: Betsy Stark Latest ABC News Correspondent Cut
April 22: Andy Rooney on son Brian Rooney: "He's good. He won't be out of work forever"
April 23: Changes at ABC News Assignment Desk

Tribune Company Seeks FCC Action

By Phil Rosenthal
Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co. today filed a series of applications with the Federal Communications Commission necessary to emerge from bankruptcy protection with its broadcast portfolio intact.

Tribune Co., which owns radio station WGN-AM 720 and 23 television stations in 19 markets, including Chicago's WGN-Ch. 9, seeks to maintain the status quo with regard to operating its broadcast assets.

This will require the FCC to sign off on assignment of their broadcast licenses to the reorganized, post-bankruptcy iteration of Tribune Co., along with continued cross-ownership waivers."Very simply," Tribune Co. Chief Executive Randy Michaels and Chief Operating Officer Gerry Spector wrote in a note to the company's employees, "this is a necessary step to ensure the orderly transition of our licenses to the new ownership structure that will be in place once we emerge."

The company is at least temporarily exempt from restrictions on newspaper-broadcast combinations in Chicago, Los Angeles, South Florida, and Hartford, Conn. New York also is considered a cross-ownership market for Tribune Co. because, in addition to WPIX-TV, it retained a small percentage of Newsday when it sold that newspaper to Cablevision in 2008.

Tribune Co.has operated under Chapter 11 protection since December 2008. It can get its reorganization plan approved by the Delaware bankruptcy court while the FCC applications are still pending. But the matter must be resolved before the company can exit Chapter 11.Similar FCC approvals were required before real estate investor Sam Zell took Tribune Co. private in December 2007.

Technically, the FCC denied Tribune Co.'s request for indefinite waivers of rules against newspaper and broadcast combinations at that time. But the FCC granted a permanent exemption in Chicago, citing the "the uniquely long-term symbiotic relationship between the broadcast stations and the newspaper" in that city.

For Tribune Co.'s other affected markets at that time, the commission decided that a challenge of the denial would trigger an extension of temporary waivers for at least two years and as long as six months beyond the end of all litigation concerning the exemptions.

Tribune Co. this time is asking for exemptions of at least 18 months beyond the conclusion of any potential litigation in the matter, if it is unable to get permanent waivers.

MAY 1st: the 6th Annual MAY DAY MARCH in NYC!

Please join the New York May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights Facebook group, the official sponsor of this event:



12 noon
14th St. & Broadway, Manhattan

Rebel Diaz Arts Collective Bronx & May 1st Present:MAY DAY FREEDOM FEST -Invest in our Youth!Hip-Hop Concert in Support of Immigrant & Worker Rights. Performances by New York’s leading artists & youth!Join thousands of workers and immigrants demanding


Tell Senator Schumer Real Immigration Reform Means:

• Stop Criminalizing Immigrants

• Not Just TPS, Amnesty for Haitian Immigrants, Repeal NAFTA/CAFTA

• Political Asylum for Victor Toro

• Stop Sexual Trafficking

The Schumer Plan is not “Comprehensive Immigration reform.” It is Sensenbrenner with another name, it will lead to an increase in raids & punishment of immigrants.


For information call: 212.633.6646

olunteers Needed!


And the Moron Award of the Week goes to......

TV News Audio Op Detained with Pot at Obama Event in Iowa

TVNewser reporter Chris Ariens writes that an audio engineer hired to cover Pres. Obama's visit to Iowa has been detained by the Secret Service after marijuana was found in his backpack.

The unidentified local hire, was brought on by a cameraman who was hired by ABC News to cover today's events.

ABC News correspondents Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller are both in Des Moines covering Pres. Obama's visit there.

The pot was found when the cameraman and soundman were being taken through the customary Secret Service security sweep. He's since been turned over to local authorities.

ABC News spokesperson Jeffrey Schneider tells TVNewser, "While we did not hire this soundman directly, we certainly regret that the Secret Service and local authorities had to waste their valuable time dealing with this matter."

Schneider says it has been ABC's practice "for the past decade" of hiring local crews to cover events in various parts of the country.

Remember brothers and sisters; your union card is only as valuable as the behavior of the stupidest moron that has one, please engage brain at all times. BD

More Freelancers Fight to Be Paid

The Wall Street Journal

As more people turn to freelance and independent consulting work, they're taking on an unexpected role: bill collector.

For New York business consultant Christopher Santini, the pursuit for payment from one client has practically become a second job. Last May, a small business he consulted for went through a merger, and the new company fell behind on payments to him. Now, Mr. Santini, who's been a freelance consultant since 2008, says he is owed about $35,000, which would have accounted for almost 40% of his annual income last year.

"I started to get the standard run around," says Mr. Santini. "The secretary would tell me the person I needed to speak to was out. Finally [they] started to ignore me and not return emails or calls."

Mr. Santini says he has spent 80 hours calling and emailing company officials. He discussed the case with a lawyer, but decided not to bring it to court. Instead, he is still working to get the client to pay up on his own.

About 40% of freelancers had trouble getting paid in 2009, according to a survey released in mid-April by the New York-based Freelancers Union, a 135,000-member organization for independent contractors across the country in fields such as media, technology, and advertising. It was the first year the group asked the question on its member survey. And more than three out of four freelancers said they've had trouble getting paid over the course of their careers, according to organization.

The problem could become more acute as independent contractors emerge as a more central piece of the work force. The financial crisis and the resulting high unemployment thrust many professionals into the ranks of freelance workers, which may continue to grow despite signs of an economic recovery.

Littler Mendelson, a San Francisco-based employment law firm with 49 offices nationwide, predicts that in 2010 half of previously eliminated positions filled will be filled by contingent workers—such as independent contractors, freelancers, and temp workers—accounting for as much as 25% of the work force nationwide— based on client interviews and a survey conducted by a staffing analysis firm.

Since independent contractors aren't covered by most federal employment laws, they don't enjoy the same legal protections on wages as permanent employees, says a spokesman for the Department of Labor. If a permanent employee doesn't get paid, federal or state labor departments can fine companies and even prosecute company executives. But independent contractors often have to turn to the court system, in most cases small claims, if they go unpaid.

To some, small-claims court can be more trouble than it's worth, says Sara Horowitz, executive director of the Freelancers Union. Depending on the state, it will cost about $50 to file a claim and it can take months for a case to be heard. Even if a freelancer wins, small-claims judgments must be collected by the plaintiff.

Even before going to court, freelancers can spend significant time building their case. In January, Medford, Mass., artist Charles Leo sued a California-based coffee shop and kiosk manufacturer for $1,150, the agreed-upon fee of architectural renderings of a coffee shop he was never paid for. Mr. Leo says he spent more than 60 hours creating the renderings—and 40 hours trying to collect payment, gathering evidence and spending time in small-claims court. The judge ruled in Mr. Leo's favor and ordered the company to pay the fee, but didn't grant the $850 or so in punitive damages Mr. Leo requested for his time spent on the case. (The maximum judgment for small claims in Massachusetts is $2,000.)

"It was a piddling amount compared to the time I had to spend pursuing it," he says.

How can a freelancer avoid problems? Before accepting a job, freelancers can search consumer complaint Web sites like and industry discussion boards to make sure the company they're contracting with doesn't have a history of late payments, says Kate Lister, a former small-business consultant, and co-author of "Undress for Success: The Naked Truth About Making Money at Home."

Make sure to have the terms of payment and penalties for being late built into a written contract. Should a firm run into financial trouble, company officials typically give priority to the contractors who have spelled out fee-based consequences for a late payment, says Michelle Goodman, author of "My So-Called Freelance Life."

After a payment deadline has passed, immediately try to connect with the person responsible for payment by phone. If they don't respond, send a revised invoice with the agreed-upon fees or interest charges added on.

Where contractors go wrong is when they don't act fast at the first sign of a late payment. Freelancers "don't want to look like a jerk, but that's silly. This isn't getting a prom date. It's business," Ms. Goodman says.

Filing a complaint in small-claims court should be a last resort. As a last step before heading to small-claims court, send a simple letter with the amount, how long it's overdue and your intention to take it to court, Ms. Lister says, and copy your lawyer, a company board member and any relevant regulatory agencies. A complaint about a broadcast company, for example, could be copied to the Federal Communications Commission, which considers how a broadcaster treats its local community when granting certain permits, Ms. Lister says.

"You have to find those pressure points that will make someone really pay attention to your letter," she says.

If you get a judgment in your favor and the company doesn't send a check, you'll probably have to pay other fees to file liens, garnish the company's earnings, or hire a police officer to seize cash from the business, depending on the state. Keep in mind, if a company hasn't paid because it's under bankruptcy-court protection or doesn't have the money, you likely won't be able to collect.

For its part, the Freelancers Union launched an advertising and lobbying campaign urging employers to make good on unpaid freelance wages in early April. Ms. Horowitz says her organization is working on potential legislation to pass on to state lawmakers in New York to give free-lancers more legal recourse and create penalties for companies that don't pay.

As for Mr. Santini, he's now working out a payment plan with the firm's chief executive. "I don't know how many times I've been told 'The check is in the mail' or 'Your invoice went to my junk email inbox,'" he says.

More on Freelancing
Transitioning to a Freelance Job
Freelancers' Guide to Getting Paid--on Time
Creating a Consultancy Out of What You Practice

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More than 8,000 Set for Virtual March on Wall Street—Join Us Today

This Thursday, April 29, some 10,000 union members, community activists from National People’s Action (NPA) and other groups will march on Wall Street. Our message to the Big Bankers: Americans are angry that their reckless greed made a mess of the economy and destroyed jobs—and it’s time they pay to restore those jobs.

If you can’t make it in person, join the more than 8,000 people who have signed up to be taken to the march virtually.

To join the virtual march and demand an end to Wall Street’s reckless practices and insist on real Wall Street reform, click here.

We’ll print your name on a sticker that one of the marchers will carry. You can add your personal message to the sign that the marcher will carry in your name. Let the Big Bankers know you’re fed up with their shenanigans and that you want real change. The march and rally, which begin at 4 p.m. EDT, is part of the AFL-CIO’s Good Jobs Now! Make Wall Street Pay mobilization.

It’s more important than ever to speak out for Wall Street reform. Yesterday, in the Senate, all the Republicans and one Democrat blocked an effort by Senate Democrats to reform Wall Street. It’s clear the Republicans are standing up for Wall Street and not Main Street.

And Americans want real reform. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that some two-thirds of Americans support stricter regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business.

Despite overwhelming opposition to business as usual, Big Banks are spending $1.4 million a day in lobbying and political expenses to fight reform, according to Heather Booth, executive director of the coalition Americans for Financial Reform.

Also this week, Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate, is holding satellite events at Big Banks in eight cities, where working people are sending in ”We’re not your ATM” pictures from those events. For more information, click here. Working America also will deliver 70,000 fliers about Wall Street reform to homes around the country and collect 10,000 handwritten letters to members of Congress.

More than 1,000 people in San Francisco will rally at the Wells Fargo shareholder meeting on Tuesday. Hundreds of retirees, family farmers and workers from across the heartland will march on the financial district in Kansas City, Mo., and demand Bank of America divest from payday lending.

On Wednesday, hundreds of veterans, clergy members and working families will march to rally at the Bank of America annual shareholder meeting in Charlotte, N.C. Union leaders, community activists, small business owners, economists and working families who have lost their jobs, homes and credit will engage in a major demonstration in Chicago’s financial district, demanding Wall Street banks pay to rebuild jobs and the economy they helped destroy.

Maine Gubernatorial Candidates Support Workers, Boycott TV Station

As the June gubernatorial primary in Maine approaches, Portland’s WGME, the CBS affiliate, should be cashing in on lucrative political ads.

Instead, the station is losing a sizeable slug of business.

All five Democratic gubernatorial candidates are
refusing to buy ads from the Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s affiliate in support of workers at the station, members of Manchester Local 1837.

Sinclair has unilaterally declared an impasse in contract talks, cut wages, and implemented parts of their last contract offer that forced concessions on workers who include operating technicians, news editors, assignment editors, photographers, engineers, producers and directors.

Cynthia Phinney, Local 1837 business manager says:

"We’re grateful to the candidates and the party for their support. We think it sends a strong message that Mainers don’t like the unfair treatment of workers at WGME. They think that Maine workers deserve good jobs to help support their families and communities."

Steve Rowe, a candidate for governor said:
"We need to move Maine in a new direction by creating jobs and putting workers and their families first, that's what I'll do as Governor. But why wait? By honoring IBEW 1837's moratorium, my campaign is starting that effort now."

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1837 is proud to represent approximately 1,650 working men and women all over Maine and New Hampshire. Most of our members work at electric utilities or broadcasting stations throughout the two states. We work at companies such as Central Maine Power, Public Service of New Hampshire, and WGME-TV 13, just to name a few!

Click here for the Local 1837 Web site.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Next CUNY Murphy Institute Open House, May 5, 2010

Master of Arts degree in Labor Studies at the CUNY School of Professional Studies

Earn a professional degree to enhance career opportunities in labor and related fields.

Develop a deeper understanding of work, workers and workers’ organizations in a global society.

Acquire new knowledge and sharpen analytical skills.

Become a more effective advocate for labor rights and social justice.

Study with world-class faculty and outstanding practitioners in the field.

CUNY Murphy Institute for Worker Education & Labor Studies
25 West 43rd Street, 19th Floor New York, NY 10036 (212) 827-0200

Spring & Summer 2010 Open House Dates
Dates: May 5, June 3 & June 23
Time: 6 -8 p.m.
Location: Murphy Institute
25 West 43rd St., 19th Floor
New York, NY 10036
RSVP: Laurie Kellogg (212) 642- 2055
Tica Frazer (212) 642- 2050

About the M.A. in Labor Studies

Students explore issues from many perspectives, including economics, sociology, history, political science, global studies and cultural analysis. The curriculum combines theory with practice and includes internship opportunities. Graduates are prepared to work with unions as representatives, organizers, researchers, educators and communications specialists, among other staff and leadership positions. Others pursue careers in law, labor relations, human resources and government.

Brief Faculty Biographies for the M.A. in Labor Studies

Full Time Faculty

Dr. Ruth Milkman, a renowned Professor of Sociology, comes to JSMI from the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA. She is an expert on women and immigrant workers, and contemporary unionism, and is the author of many books including L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement.

Dr. Joshua Freeman is an award-winning teacher and author of the acclaimed book Working Class New York. He serves as consulting editor for New Labor Forum, and is the Executive Officer and a Professor in the doctoral program in History at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Dr. Stephanie Luce has gained widespread recognition for her work on Living Wage campaigns as well as the effects of globalization on jobs and workers. She comes to JSMI from UMass, Amherst, where she is an Associate professor and he Director of Research at the Labor Center.

Dr. Penny Lewis
, Assistant Professor of Labor Studies, is an award-winning teacher who has taught at CUNY schools, Brown, and Barnard. Her areas of scholarship include social movements, social class and the contemporary labor movement.

James Steele, Distinguished Lecturer, is a highly regarded political analyst with expertise in labor and politics. He has served as Special Assistant to Congressman Gregory Meeks and was the Program Director for the Council of Black Elected Democrats.

Ed Ott, Distinguished Lecturer, is the former Director of the NYC Central Labor Council. Ed has over 40 years of experience in the labor movement and has played a major role in shaping politics and policy in New York, as well as key legislation, such as the Living Wage bill.

Consortial Faculty
(faculty from CUNY divisions who will teach in the Labor Studies program)

Dr. Stanley Aronowitz is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate School, and Director of CUNY’s Center for the Study of Culture, Technology and Work. He is the author of 23 books, including Working Class Hero and From the Ashes of the Old: American Labor and America’s Future.

Dr. Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, is a prominent scholar and activist whose work focuses on social policy and the social welfare system. She is the author of many groundbreaking books and articles, including Regulating the Poor.

Dr. Stephen Brier is a Professor of Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center and an expert in the use of new media and technology. He cofounded and was the Executive Director of The American Social History Project, and co-authored their widely used text, Who Built America?


· Labor in the Era of Globalization
· Research Methods
· Labor Law
· Theories and Perspectives on the Labor Movement
· Labor and the Economy
· Labor-Management Relations
· The Capstone Course


· U.S. Labor History from 1929 to Present
· Issues in Organizing
· Labor and Politics
· Comparative Labor Movements
· Policy Analysis
· Labor Studies Field Work Internship

Degree Requirements:
To earn the Labor Studies MA, students must complete 30 credits, distributed among seven required courses and three electives.
The Next Open House Is May 5th, 2010 at 6:15 pm at

CUNY Joseph S. Murphy Institute
25 W. 43rd, 18th floor
New York, NY 10036

For more information contact:

Laurie Kellogg
Special Assistant to Labor Studies Programs (212) 642 - 2055; 718-440-1550

The Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies was established in collaboration with New York City labor unions and the City University of New York.

The Institute offers educational opportunities to union members and serves as an academic resource on issues of concern to the labor movement. The Institute includes The Center for Worker Education and the Center for Community, Labor and Policy Studies.

Inside Job

For seven months a team of investigative journalists from ProPublica looked into the inside story of one company that made hundreds of millions of dollars for itself while worsening the financial crisis for the rest of us. It includes the original Broadway song "Bet Against the American Dream": MP3; video; sheet music.

Bet Against the American Dream from Alexander Hotz on Vimeo.

Supreme Court to Decide if Big Business Can Judge Itself

— By Stephanie Mencimer

The ever-more business friendly Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in a case that has the potential to shut a whole lot of regular Americans out of the justice system. The nation’s largest rent-to-own furniture company, Rent-a-Center, has asked the court to decide essentially whether huge corporate players should be able to use one-sided contracts to opt out of the civil justice system and judge themselves when customers and employees want to sue for discrimination or other abuses.

The case has enormous implications for big business, which has for years now been able to avoid legal accountability and big jury awards for employment discrimination, fraud, and even sexual assault by forcing people to sign what’s known as a mandatory arbitration clause as a condition of getting a cell phone, using a credit card, buying a car, or getting a job. The clauses force people to bring any complaint against the company to before a private arbitrator, hired by the company, whose decisions can’t be reviewed by a judge in most cases. Not surprisingly, those arbitrators rarely find in favor of the little guy. But over the past couple of years, the little guy has been fighting back and occasionally winning important victories.

People like Jaime Leigh Jones have, against great odds, prevailed over much more powerful entities once they’ve gotten inside a regular courtroom. Leigh is the KBR/Halliburton employee who alleged that she was gang raped by her co-workers in Iraq and then confined to a storage container by her employer. She recently prevailed in a challenge to the arbitration clause in her contract that would have forced her to have her rape case heard by a Halliburton-hired arbitrator rather than a jury. Deborah Williams and Richard Welshans, after years of litigation, last year also won a ruling in federal court allowing them to finally bring a fraud lawsuit against the Coffee Beanery, a company they allege duped them into sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into a doomed franchise. (The victory, unfortunately, came too late to save their house.)

But if the Supreme Court rules for Rent-a-Center in the case argued today, even those rare victories will become nonexistent. That’s because, as Public Citizen’s Robert Weissman has written, "The question presented to the Supreme Court in Rent-A-Center is, essentially: Can a corporation's hand-picked arbitrator decide whether it is fair for the company to hand-pick its arbitrator?"

Rent-a-Center West v. Antonio Jackson got its start back in 2004, when the nation’s largest "rent-to-own" furniture store hired Jackson, an African-American, as an account manager. Eventually, Jackson sought promotion, but each time, Rent-a-Center hired a non-black employee with less seniority. Finally, Jackson was promoted after he complained to various higher-ups, but then after two months, Rent-a-Center fired him without cause.

Jackson filed suit against Rent-A-center in Feb. 2007 in federal court for racial discrimination. But when he went to court, Rent-a-Center argued that the arbitration clause Jackson had signed when he was hired required him to go to private arbitration—and to pay half the cost.

Jackson countered that the arbitration clause was so one-sided that it was completely unconscionable, and thus unenforceable. For instance, while the provision forced Jackson to take any complaints against the company to arbitration, it allowed Rent-a-Center to sue Jackson in a real court should he disclose trade secrets or other confidential company info. The agreement also put strict limits on how much information Jackson could procure from Rent-a-Center in discovery and said he could depose but two people for his arbitration, a laughably small number compared to what he would need to prove discrimination.

Nonetheless, a federal district court ruled against him—not because the contract was so ridiculous, but because it said that if Jackson wanted to challenge the arbitration clause as unconscionable, he had to do it before a Rent-a-Center-paid arbitrator, not a judge, as is the standard practice.

The district court basically said it was OK for Rent-a-Center to ban judicial review simply by writing it into a contract that Jackson had no choice but to sign.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, arguing that questions about unconscionability were definitely something for the court to oversee. Rent-a-Center appealed, and the Supreme Court took the case up on an expedited basis and will hear arguments today.

What the court will do is anyone’s guess. Given its decidedly pro-business tilt these days, as seen in its recent Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate money into elections, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it will side with Rent-a-Center.

At the same time, though, Rent-a-Center is hardly a model corporate citizen. It could provide a case study for why people need access to unbiased courts. Last year, the state of Washington sued the company for allegedly abusing its customers who made late payments on rent-to-own furniture and electronics. Investigators turned up customers who’d literally had Rent-a-Center employees kicking their doors in and threatening to arrest them and send their children to foster care because they were a day late making a payment on their big screen TVs.

The state found that the company had engaged in unfair and deceptive practices that left consumers unable to figure out exactly how much renting it would take before they finally got to own their stuff (which no one ever did). State investigators found people who’d paid more than $6,000 for a used TV, for instance. Even this Supreme Court might have to think twice before letting companies like Rent-a-Center hire arbitrators to decide whether they are behaving badly enough to be sued before a jury.

Stephanie Mencimer is a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. For more of her stories, click here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

FCC sets up another media ownership workshop

The date and venue of the next installment of the FCC’s Quadrennial Review road show is now officially on the calendar.

Stanford CA will be the site, on 5/21/10, and the focus will be the relationship between new technology and broadcast ownership rules.

Stanford University’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium will be the location of the two-panel meeting, which will run from 10 AM until 5 PM.

From the FCC, the topics of the day will be:

* Whether innovation is playing a role in how traditional broadcasters reach their audiences and if so, how;

* In what way, if any, advances in technology have spurred new content distribution opportunities; and

* How the changing marketplace should affect the Commission’s review of its media ownership rules, if at all.

The FCC is casting a wide net for participants. It said, “Panelists will include local broadcasters, economists, academics, and new media and industry representatives. Public attendance is encouraged.”

Good Jobs Now! Rally - Thursday, April 29, 2010, 4:00pm to 6:00pm at New York City Hall

Good Jobs Now! Rally
(Followed by March down Broadway)
Thursday, April 29, 2010, 4:00pm to 6:00pm
New York City Hall
(Enter at Broadway & Chambers Street)

A Call to Action from the New York Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
As our city, state and nation continue to climb out the current financial crisis, workingclass
Americans still struggle to keep their homes. While taxpayer dollars were used to
prevent a complete financial collapse, 1 in 10 Americans remain unemployed.
In response, the IATSE and National AFL-CIO have embarked on a long-term campaign to
ensure that working people do not get left behind and the economic recovery reaches
Main Street, not just Wall Street.

On April 29th from 4 to 6pm, in conjunction with the AFL-CIO’s Good Jobs Now
campaign, the NYC Labor Movement will rally at City Hall and then march down
Broadway through the Financial District.
AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka will
lead the rally where we call for the recovery to make its way to working people on Main
Street. We need to make sure that the economic bailout does more than just protect CEO
bonuses, that it helps to bring back the 10 million jobs lost since 2007.

Collectively, we will show that when working men and women speak with one voice, they
are heard loud and clear. This AFL-CIO Good Jobs Now mobilization will be our call
for action. Taxpayers bailed out the big ban; now we need to make sure that working
men and women have the same opportunity to get back on their feet.

The IATSE New York Production Locals are pledging
their support to this crucial call to action.

We hope for a large turnout of Local 600 members on April 29th.
If you would like join our contingent, please call Business Agent David Blake at
(212)647-7300, or email David will arrange a meeting location for us at
the rally and coordinate our participation.

Last Friday, Local 600 members joined with more than 1,000 unionists from Los Angeles and across Southern California for a rally to support the locked-out miners of Boron, California. Many of you may have read about the issue in this newsletter, but for those who haven't, the British conglomerate Rio Tinto has locked out 560 miners in a small desert town near LA.

This town lives and dies by mining jobs and Rio Tinto is waging a campaign against the community that not only makes working in the mine less safe, but may result in the wholesale outsourcing of these critical union jobs. It's just the sort of unfair big business that unions were created to fight, and I am proud to say that Friday's two-hour rally in front of the British Consulate truly was union solidarity at its best. You'll be able to read more about it soon on our website and in Camera Angles.

In our own industry, the news this week has some bright spots as you can see in the articles below. Shrek is going 3D on DVD, as Jeffrey Katzenberg announced last week. 3D films are also bringing in big box office numbers overseas, yet again re-enforcing that this technology is here to stay and will be a growing area of work in the coming months and years. Our 3D training sessions are packed, proving that Local 600 members have the foresight and drive to learn these skills. We will continue to work hard to make 3D training available to more members in the near future.

There is also news that despite a decline in DVD sales, more people are using their digital recorders to watch programs with conflicting time slots, and overall, TV viewership is up. Advertisers are returning and ad prices are rising, and the market is adjusting to the fact that the viewers are there, they just want to watch on their own timetable. We are also seeing an increase in revenue from paid downloads of entertainment. While this is still a small source of revenue overall, in our last contract IATSE negotiated an 80% increase in residuals for these downloads, so we are taking in our fair share of what I am certain will be a growing area of entertainment distribution.


Steven Poster,
Local 600 National President


The three-day 3D training program hosted by Sony is now in full swing. The program has been extended at least through the summer, and we are working on ways of increasing the numbers of students that can take the class.

We have nearly three hundred members who have signed up for the class. We do not know precisely how long Sony will be able to provide the staff and facilities for us. We will continue to put names on a waiting list. We will also continue to place students as fast as we can.

Click here for details.

ICG 600 National Office (323)876-0160 7755 Sunset Boulevard Hollywood CA 90046

Recession Adds to Appeal of Short-Term Jobs


NORCROSS, Ga. — Michael Sinclair knows that in a few months, his stint in the marketing department of a health care manufacturing company here north of Atlanta is set to end.
Michael Sinclair, at his home office, prefers his life as an independent contractor to his old corporate position.

Sinclair's short-term assignment with Mölnlycke Health Care has become a full-time job as interim head of marketing.

He has been with the company for only six months, but he is not dismayed. In fact, he actually prefers his life as an independent contractor — constantly being laid off and rehired, sometimes juggling multiple jobs — to his old corporate position.

“I think it’s far less risky than being in a full-time job somewhere and cut at will and left with nothing,” Mr. Sinclair said. “I see this as the way more people will work in the future.”

Economists believe that Mr. Sinclair’s situation has become increasingly common. What is known as “contingent work,” or “flexible” and “alternative” staffing arrangements, has proliferated, although exact figures are hard to come by because of difficulties in tracking such workers. Many people are apparently looking at multiple temporary jobs as the equivalent of a diversified investment portfolio.

The notion that the nature of work is changing — becoming more temporary and project-based, with workers increasingly functioning as free agents and no longer being governed by traditional long-term employer-employee relationships — first gained momentum in the 1990s. But it has acquired new currency in this recession, especially among white-collar job seekers, as they cast about for work of any kind and companies remain cautious about permanent hiring.

In just one snapshot of what is going on, the number of people who describe themselves as self-employed but working less than 35 hours a week because they cannot find full-time work has more than doubled since the recession began, reaching 1.2 million in December 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Economists who study flexible work arrangements believe that the increase has been driven in large part by independent contractors like Mr. Sinclair and other contingent workers, struggling to cobble together whatever work they can find.

As the economy continues its halting recovery and employers’ confidence remains shaky, economists believe that it is likely that the ranks of these kinds of workers will continue to grow.
“To the degree there’s more uncertainty coming out of this recession than in past recessions, we would expect companies to be more cautious about taking on more permanent employees,” said Susan Houseman, senior economist with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, who studies contingent workers. “So they’d be looking for more of these nonstandard employees to hire.”

Some, like Mr. Sinclair, have embraced this lifestyle, influenced by a growing sense of just how precarious traditional employment can be and reveling in the other benefits, like flexibility and diversity.

Others, however, would vastly prefer permanent jobs. They have struggled to deal with the instability, the second-tier status often accorded contractors and other temporary workers and the usual lack of benefits. In most states, they are ineligible for unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation. Indeed, it is not at all clear that the shift to these kinds of arrangements is good for workers.

Christine Reams, 45, spent a dozen years as the director of human resources at a large hospital in Columbus, Ohio, but was laid off in July 2008. After struggling for more than a year to find a permanent job, she landed a contract assignment back at her former employer in September, this time in the information services department. Initially, the position, which pays half of what she used to make, was supposed to last only six weeks, but the hospital has extended her contract several times.

Now past her sixth month, she is grateful for the work, but the uncertainty has weighed on her, so much so that she checked herself into the emergency room recently when her blood pressure soared. Without health benefits, she had fretted over whether she would be extended again.
“It’s not permanent,” she said of the assignment. “So I am not feeling secure.”

Bob Longo, 47, of Green Brook, N.J., was laid off as a divisional sales training manager at Unilever in 2006. Since then, he has worked as an independent contractor, stringing together a relatively steady stream of assignments, often several at once.

But he has also had to deal with serious peaks and valleys, and he is now trying to find a permanent job.

Mr. Longo estimates that he has earned slightly more on an annual basis than he did at Unilever. On the other hand, he no longer has health benefits, a company car, a pension or a 401(k). Though he can use his wife’s health insurance, he says he does not have the stomach anymore for the endless cycle of scrabbling for work every time he comes off a project.

“I have steak days, and I have peanut butter days,” he said. “When times are good, times can be really good. But when times are bad, they can be really lean.”

Federal and state officials have recently stepped up efforts to crack down on companies that have sought to save money by avoiding paying taxes and benefits on behalf of workers they classify as independent contractors who should actually be treated as full-time employees.

The universe of contingent work and alternative employment arrangements is broad. The largest segment appears to be independent contractors, which includes consultants like Mr. Sinclair, as well as freelance writers, nurse practitioners, information technology specialists and myriad other professionals. In 2005, the last time the Bureau of Labor Statistics tried to track these kinds of workers, independent contractors accounted for 7.4 percent of total employment.

There is also a much smaller group whose ranks have been expanding in recent months — workers who draw their paychecks from temporary help agencies. Still others are employed directly by contracting firms, and there are also temporary workers, like seasonal retail hires, brought on directly by companies.

Despite the drawbacks, there are many who have entered this world voluntarily. In Mr. Sinclair’s case, he had been working at a marketing and strategy consulting firm in the Atlanta area but was laid off last year.

After realizing that companies were mostly not hiring but still had short-term work to be done, Mr. Sinclair plunged into selling himself as a consultant. After taking a few months to get started, he found himself juggling a steady stream of part-time projects.

His current position at Mölnlycke Health Care, which makes surgical gloves and other medical products, started out as a short-term assignment but has morphed into a full-time job as the company’s interim head of marketing. The company plans to hire someone permanent but has been busy with other priorities, which is fine with Mr. Sinclair.

If he is offered the position, he said that while he would be tempted, he was not certain he would take it. His experience with his last company — the first time he had been laid off — taught him a lesson.

“I just saw you really can’t rely on a company,” he said. “I think too many people, even in this day, still think you can rely on a company for security.”

He would rather rely on himself.

Deadline Set For Report on Tribune Bankruptcy Irregularities

Examiner will probe 2007 buyout, including role of Zell

The bankruptcy judge signed an order yesterday formally calling for the U.S. Trustee to name an examiner to perform an examination of newspaper publisher Tribune Coompany. Bankruptcy judge Kevin Carey said he wanted the examiner inquiry to be conducted in parallel with continuing negotiations between the company and its creditors in order to broaden the proposed reorganisation plan.

The examiner, whose report is due by July 12, will investigate whether the $13.8 billion leveraged buyout led by Sam Zell in December 2007 included fraudulent transfers because operating subsidiaries pledged their assets for new loans and didn't receive equal value in return.

The leveraged buyout put real estate developer Sam Zell in control of the company. Bondholders have blasted the deal as the "virtually no money down LBO" and blame it for Tribune's bankruptcy and their investment losses.

The bankruptcy judge also charged the examiner with investigating whether the indenture trustee for $1.2 billion in exchangeable subordinated notes violated the so-called automatic stay by filing suit in March against secured lenders who financed the LBO.

The suit is based on a theory known as equitable subordination. If the suit succeeds, the lenders, although secured, would be paid after the subordinated debt. The defendants in the suit include JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, Merrill Lynch Capital Corp., Citibank NA and Morgan Stanley & Co.

The lenders want the indenture trustee held in contempt for violating the automatic stay.
The examiner also will look into whether the indenture trustee disclosed information in the complaint that was required to remain confidential.

The bankruptcy judge will hold a status conference on May 10 to consider the examiner's work plan and estimated expenses.

Tribune filed a proposed Chapter 11 plan on April 12 to implement a settlement negotiated with some creditors. Before the plan was filed, holders of $3.6 billion in pre-bankruptcy secured debt announced their opposition to the plan and the settlement.

The junior bondholders, who hold $1.2 billion of debt, have said their best hope for a recovery in the bankruptcy lies in disallowing billions of dollars of senior claims. They are seeking to prove the lenders extended loans to finance the leveraged buyout knowing it would render the company insolvent.

Holders of those leveraged-buyout loans will receive nearly all of the company's equity under the company's proposed reorganization plan, which will wipe out billions of dollars in debt.
The examiner will issue a report by July 12. The examiner will also investigate the conduct of the legal counsel for the junior bondholders to determine if confidential information was improperly disclosed in court filings.

A judge on Monday set the week of Aug. 16 for considering the company's plan of reorganization.

Tribune is the second-largest newspaper publisher in the U.S. The company listed $13 billion in debt for borrowed money and assets of $7.6 billion in the Chapter 11 reorganization begun in December 2008. 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).

Court-Appointed Bankruptcy Examiner For Tribune

By Pandora Young

Bankruptcy cases can be confusing. Fortunately the Tribune Company's Chapter 11 is going to get a little extra attention in the form of a Bankruptcy Examiner. We're not entirely sure what such a person does, but we bet they're expensive.

The LA Times explains a bit:

The examiner, who will be appointed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee in Delaware by the end of the week, will be free to inspect all aspects of the case, including the buyout and the fairness of a settlement reached this month between Tribune and some of its creditors...
Legal experts say the appointment of an independent examiner could speed up negotiations. But it also could raise new issues that might complicate the case.

The examiner's report is due July 12. But we don't need to read it to know that Sam Zell is a twerp.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Labor Update: AFL-CIO 2010 Executive Pay Watch

by Tracy Kurowski - Blog for Iowa

Last Tuesday, the AFL-CIO launched its 2010 Executive Pay Watch, an on-line catalogue of CEO pay for the previous year. The purpose of the annual report is to focus attention on outrageous CEO pay and the growing wage gap between working families and corporate executives.

This year's PayWatch differs from previous years in that it profiles the paychecks of the CEOs of the six big banks (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup) which were bailed out by the taxpayers, but who are now lobbying our legislators to prevent meaningful financial reform.

These six banks alone paid out nearly $145 billion in total 2009 compensation packages. Since the collapse of the economy in 2008, financial reform has yet to pass Congress. It seems after executive compensation, the next big expenditure of the big banks has been to spend $50 million on lobbying against meaningful legislation.

The CEO’s of America’s biggest banks earned:

Bank of America Corp., Thomas Montag,
2009 Total Compensation: $29,930,431 .00

JPMorgan Chase & Co., James Dimon,
2009 Total Compensation: $9,274,494.00

Citigroup Inc., John Havens,
2009 Total Compensation: $11,276,454.00

Morgan Stanley, Walid Chammah,
2009 Total Compensation: $10,021,969.00

The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Lloyd Blankfein,
2009 Total Compensation: $9,862,657.00

Wells Fargo, John Stumpf,
2009 Total Compensation: $21,340,547.00

Other parts of the website profile what the average worker earned in a company compared to its CEO. Here are some of the ratios for large companies with plants in Iowa:

ALCOAPresident and Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld: $11,897,153 in total compensation.
By comparison, the average worker made $32,048 in 2009. Klaus Kleinfeld made 371 times the average worker's pay.

DEERE & CO (DE)In 2009, Samuel R. Allen received. $5,610,143 in total compensation.
By comparison, the average worker made $32,048 in 2009. Samuel R. Allen made 175 times the average worker's pay.

ROCKWELL COLLINS INC (COL)In 2009, Clayton M. Jones received. $7,381,808 in total compensation. By comparison, the average worker made $32,048 in 2009. Clayton M. Jones made 230 times the average worker's pay.

PRINCIPAL FINANCIAL GROUP INC (PFG)In 2008, Larry D. Zimpleman received. $4,163,906 in total compensation. By comparison, the average worker made $32,048 in 2009. Larry D. Zimpleman made 129 times the average worker's pay.

The AFL-CIO plans to march on Wall Street April 29th to protest such enormous salaries while millions of Americans remain out of work, and to highlight the need for both financial reform and a jobs bill. One element of financial reform could be to implement a financial transactions bill and increase taxes on private-equity and hedge funds.

Click here to learn more about this march

Tracy Kurowski has been active in the labor movement for ten years, first as a member of AFSCME 3506, when she taught adult education classes at the City Colleges of Chicago. She moved to the Quad Cities in 2007 where she worked as political coordinator with the Quad City Federation of Labor, and as a caseworker for Congressman Bruce Braley from 2007 - 2009.

Tracy Kurowski writes a labor update every Monday on Blog for Iowa Main Page

FCC Suspends Comcast/NBCU Deadline Indefinitely

RBR-TVBR After going over economic reports from the principals in the proposed merger of Comcast and NBCU, FCC staff has requested two additional economic reports, which the principals say cannot be ready until near the 5/3/10 deadline for comments. The FCC has therefore suspended the deadline.

Once the new reports are available to the public, the 45-day comment clock will begin, followed by a 30-day reply/opposition period and 15-day reply/oppose the replies/oppositions period.US Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) had joined numerous organizations in seeking a 45-day extension to the 5/3/10 date, and had followed a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to that effect with the introduction of legislation that aimed to make the extension a matter of law.

In fact, in a release Waters claimed victory, saying, “The FCC Media Bureau now acknowledges – as I have maintained – that consumer advocates will need substantially more time to review the complex details of this merger and prepare a sufficient response,” said Congresswoman Waters. “This positive development ensures that the interests of the American public will be weighed before the FCC issues its ruling on the merger.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Maybe it’s just us, but it seems that these types of transactions rarely travel in the fast lane of the government review highway – the pace is closer to what’s possible on a one-lane, one-way city street with parking on two sides, heavy pedestrian traffic and over-sized hot-dog stands.

Our prediction: The deadline will move back, and the requests for an extension will begin anew.

We do not agree that Waters was the reason the FCC extended the deadline – the Commission is usually very upfront about acknowledging the source of such a request when it grants an extension. The FCC said the reason was the submission of new information by the principals, and we believe the FCC.

The Waters legislation is now moot, but we suggest that she may want to keep it warm, ready to be amended with new dates, should she want additional time after the second round of reports become available. And well she might – more data means more for analysts to wade through, and 45 days may prove just as troublesome on the second round as many found it to be on the first.

RBR-TVBR Sign up here for our free newsletters!

Sen. Franken Awakens AG Holder to Comcast/NBCU Merger Issue

US Attorney General Eric Holder thought he was in a Senate Judiciary hearing about Guantanamo Bay – but Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) took the opportunity to grill the AG about the DOJ review of the proposed merger of Comcast and NBCU.

Holder was circumspect, but did confess to being interested as a private citizen thanks to his status as Comcast subscriber.Franken expressed concerns about the merger, according to a Washington Post Report, including the possibility of setting off a wave of similar mergers between other media giants that could leave the nation with essentially five sources of information.

Holder and his anti-trust leader Christine Varney would only promise vigilant review, until Franken pointed out that the average citizen didn’t understand this issue, that it was about their cable bill.

“Well, now I care. I’m a Comcast subscriber,” said Holder, according to WaPo. “And the fact that you point out it could have an impact on my cable bill has awakened. ... You’ve got the A.G. more interested than I was going into this.”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Local TV Stations in Venture for Mobile Programming

By Brian Steltser
The New York Times

Determined not to get left behind as television migrates to mobile devices, a formidable group of local television stations is forming a joint venture for what it calls a “national mobile content service.”

The joint venture includes the NBC and Fox stations, respectively owned by NBC Universal and the News Corporation; stations owned by Ion Television; and nine other local groups. The companies said they would contribute broadcast spectrum for the service.

Executives at the companies said Tuesday that they foresaw transmissions of live newscasts, local sports and other shows to viewers’ phones over the public airwaves, some free and some on a subscription basis. “Going forward, consumers are going to expect to be able to see events in prime time live and on the go,” said David Lougee, the president of Gannett Broadcasting.
But that vision is far from certain. It will require new computer chips in phones and new programming deals with distributors.

The stations argue that the broadcast airwaves are an efficient, one-to-many way to transmit bandwidth-hogging video streams to phones, contrasting it with the one-to-one way that wireless data is carried. But spectrum is a contested subject in Washington now, as the Federal Communications Commission seeks to convert some portions of the broadcast airwaves for new commercial wireless uses.

The announcement on Tuesday drew comparisons to Hulu, the joint venture among ABC, Fox and NBC on online video. The nine station groups — the Belo Corporation, the Cox Media Group, E. W. Scripps, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst Television, Media General, the Meredith Corporation, Post-Newsweek Stations and Raycom Media — will be represented in the venture by the newly formed Pearl Mobile DTV Company.

Through a separate coalition, TV providers have already coalesced around technical standards for mobile transmissions, so groups like the one announced Tuesday will now push forward on the programming side.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the News Corporation, alluded to the mobile efforts in remarks to the Federal Trade Commission last winter, saying that “today’s news consumers do not want to be chained to a box in their homes or offices to get their favorite news and entertainment — and our plan includes the needs of the next wave of TV viewing by going mobile.” He said that his company’s newspaper content could be transmitted over the airwaves, as well.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 14, 2010, on page B5 of the New York edition.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Independent Examiner May Probe Tribune's Bankruptcy Plan

Bloomberg News

Newspaper publisher Tribune Co. may get an examiner following yesterday's hearing in Delaware bankruptcy court.

Although he didn't rule, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey said he agreed with the U.S. Trustee's argument as to why there should be an investigation by an independent examiner. Carey told both sides to confer and try to reach an agreement about the scope of an examination.

If there is no agreement, Carey will hold another hearing on April 22 where he will decide whether there should be an examiner.

Tribune filed a proposed Chapter 11 plan on April 12 to implement a settlement negotiated with some creditors. Even before the plan was filed, holders of $3.6 billion in pre-bankruptcy secured debt announced their opposition to the plan and the settlement.

The lenders, who say they have 42 percent of the secured debt under the May 2007 credit agreement, contend that all of the consideration flowing to unsecured creditors would come out of their take, while other participants in the allegedly defective leveraged buyout get away scot-free, protected by releases and indemnities.

Some creditors contend that the $13.8 billion leveraged buyout in December 2007, led by Sam Zell, included fraudulent transfers because operating subsidiaries pledged their assets for new loans and received no commensurate value in return.

Tribune is the second-largest newspaper publisher in the U.S. It listed $13 billion in debt for borrowed money and assets of $7.6 billion in the Chapter 11 reorganization begun in December 2008. The company owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, six other newspapers and 23 television stations including WPIX, KTLA, and WGN.

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

Tribune Lenders Can’t Offer Rival Reorganization Plan

By Steven Church - Bloomberg

April 13 (Bloomberg) -- Tribune Co. won’t face a competing reorganization proposal from a group of hedge funds opposing the publisher’s plan to exit bankruptcy later this year, a judge ruled.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey in Wilmington, Delaware, today granted the company’s request to give it the exclusive right to file a plan. That means a group of lenders owed $3.6 billion related to the company’s 2007 leveraged buyout can’t immediately file their own bankruptcy exit plan, Tribune attorney James Conlan said in an interview.

The lenders will only be able to offer their own plan at the end of May if Carey decides that Tribune doesn’t deserve any extra time to persuade creditors to support its proposal.
“No one can file another plan,” Conlan said.

While the judge’s ruling was a victory for Chicago-based Tribune, Carey said he may order an investigation of the buyout over the company’s objections.

Tribune’s 2008 bankruptcy divided creditors, with junior bondholders, represented by their agent Wilmington Trust Co., suing over the buyout. Wilmington Trust and the U.S. Trustee, a federal lawyer who monitors bankruptcies on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department, want Carey to approve an independent examination of the buyout.

‘Preliminary Views’

The U.S. Trustee “has almost exactly spot on expressed the preliminary views I have,” Carey said during today’s court hearing.

Carey put off the hearing on the issue and asked supporters and opponents of the proposal to discuss what would be investigated should he order one.

After his announcement, Tribune and some of the lenders who may be targeted by such an investigation, agreed to meet with representatives of the junior bondholders.

Both sides are scheduled to return to court April 22 to either announce a settlement, or go ahead with a hearing so Carey can make a decision about whether to order a probe.

Tribune’s reorganization proposal, filed yesterday, reflects the settlement the publisher reached with its main creditors last week.

Before the company can exit bankruptcy later this year, Tribune will need to overcome opposition from the hedge funds, who would receive stock under the company’s proposal in exchange for canceling part of their debt, and junior bondholders who get would get nothing.
The company owns newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, along with television and radio stations.

Lender attorney Bruce Bennett urged the court today to allow his clients to propose an alternative plan. He said that would give creditors more choice about how to handle the biggest issue in the bankruptcy case, claims that the 2007 buyout caused the company’s bankruptcy by loading it with too much debt.

The hedge funds want to allow Tribune’s newspapers and television stations to leave bankruptcy as soon as possible. Afterward, lawsuits about the 2007 buyout could go forward, under the hedge funds’ proposal.

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

--Editors: Glenn Holdcraft, Charles Carter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven Church in Wilmington, Delaware, at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tribune blocks competing reorganization plans

By Tom Hals - Reuters

* Tribune blocks competing proposals for reorganization
* Battle shifts to management pay, Zell's liability
* Hearing on request for examiner postponed to allow talks

WILMINGTON, Del., April 13 (Reuters) - Tribune Co fended off the threat of an alternative reorganization plan on Tuesday, but now the U.S. newspaper publisher faces battles over its 2007 leveraged buyout and executive pay before it can emerge from bankruptcy.

A bankruptcy court judge on Tuesday gave the publisher of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times the exclusive right to propose a plan of reorganization, which it did on Monday.
The company's proposed plan values the company's equity at $4.1 billion and gives senior credit facility lenders control of 91 percent of its stock.

The plan also released Chairman Sam Zell and others of any liability relating to the $8.3 billion leveraged buyout.

Creditors have blamed the buyout for the company's bankruptcy in 2008, and those releases prompted hedge funds holding $3.6 billion of the company's senior debt to seek the right to file their own plan.

While the judge did not allow the hedge funds to file a plan, they will be able to take their fight over Zell's liability to Tribune's confirmation hearing.

Also at Tuesday's hearing, one of the company's current allies, investment fund Angelo Gordon & Co, indicted it would fight the company's management incentive plan at confirmation if it were not modified. In September, the company had asked for court permission to establish two bonus plans worth up to $20 million combined that would focus on the performance of approximately 40 top executives. The court never ruled on that request.

The judge postponed a hearing on a request by holders of $1.2 billion of junior bonds for an examiner to investigate the leveraged buyout.

In postponing the examiner request, and likely as a way to spur talks, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Carey suggested an examiner could be appointed to investigate both the buyout and also the actions by the junior bondholders' attorneys.

JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) has asked the court to impose sanctions on the bondholders' attorneys for improperly disclosing confidential documents.

"If the parties thought it possible, I might be willing to give them some time to see if they can bring everyone into the fold," Carey said, encouraging the parties to negotiate.

The company and the junior bondholders agreed to meet to discuss the scope of an examiner and report back to the court on April 22.

Two groups of lenders who say they are owed nearly $5 billion combined appear determined to object to the plan. One group said Tribune’s announcement was premature and misleading. Those creditors, who say they are owed more than $3.6 billion, include Oaktree Capital Management, Goldman Sachs Loan Partners, and Marathon Asset Management.

Holders of more than $3.6 billion of claims under a 2007 secured credit agreement said in a court filing Monday that the announcement of a deal that Tribune struck with other creditors was premature and misleading.

The lenders said that without their support, the purported global settlement Tribune announced last week is "dead on arrival." Tribune said the settlement would avoid all potential claims related to a leveraged buyout in 2007 that left the company mired in debt.

The lenders argue that they would bear the entire burden of the proposed settlement by giving up more than $400 million in value to bondholders and other unsecured creditors.

A separate group — junior bondholders represented by Wilmington Trust Co. — allege that JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and other banks that financed the buyout engaged in fraud because they knew the debt would leave Tribune insolvent. Those creditors hold $1.2 billion in bonds they stand to lose.

Tribune said it settled with a senior bondholder, Centerbridge Partners, which holds 37 percent of Tribune’s outstanding senior bond debt. It would get a 7.4 percent stake in Tribune.
Tribune said JPMorgan and Angelo, Gordon, which stand to get over a 91 percent stake in the company, agreed to the plan.

The junior bondholders would get nothing.

The case is In re: Tribune Co et al, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 08-13141.