Guild Asks for Volunteers to Ease Sting of Philly Layoffs

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By: Joe Strupp

As 68 to 71 Philadelphia Inquirer staffers get information on their layoff benefits and severance today, few of them are expected to remain on the job, despite being given 15 days notice, union officials said. Inquirer management is allowing those who are losing their jobs to leave immediately, but get their remaining paychecks.

“People were given that option if they wanted to, given that courtesy,” said Jay Devine, a spokesman for Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns the Inquirer and Daily News.

Among those planning to leave right away is Jeff Shields, a four-year reporter who was informed of his job loss Tuesday. “I am not coming back,” he said by cell phone as he drove to the human resources office. “My editor called me yesterday; I wasn’t surprised at all.”

Leaders of the Greater Philadelphia Newspaper Guild, meanwhile, were urging staffers who are not on the layoff list but considering leaving the company sometime soon to consider taking a voluntary layoff as a way to reduce the number of forced job cuts. “If you volunteer for layoffs, you get unemployment insurance; if you quit, you may not,” said Stu Bykofsky, a guild spokesman. Bill Ross, a local guild representative, added that voluntary layoffs also include severance that those who eventually quit do not receive.

The guild sent a memo to members today telling them to contact the guild office immediately if they are interested in a voluntary departure.

Word of the layoffs began to spread as early as last weekend, with editors calling some targeted employees yesterday, before the paper formally notified the guild this morning, Ross said. “There was some confusion because managers were eager to talk to employees and had some people upset,” Ross said. “But most employees were already aware of their seniority.”

Devine said editors sought to give employees advance word on Tuesday as a way of easing the impact. “I am sure we followed whatever the contract requirements were,” Devine said. He said the guild contract, which was recently ratified following a bitter negotiation period and threats of a strike, included options for a 30-day layoff notice or a 15-day notice.

Devine said the 15-day notice was chosen as a way to reduce the number of layoffs. “The 30-day would have resulted in a higher number of layoffs,” he said.

No Daily News workers were included in the layoff list. Devine said the company would likely consider any voluntary layoffs as a way to reduce the number of forced layoffs.

Ross said guild leaders were meeting with each laid-off employee today and comparing their seniority list with that used by the company to make sure the proper seniority is followed. So far, Ross said no disputes had arisen.

The layoffs will result in a 17% staff reduction, according to the Inquirer, leaving the newsroom staff size at about 325. The paper added that it would save some $6.8 million annually.

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