New Layoffs in Philly Prompt Guild Advisories

By: Joe Strupp

Two weeks after Newspaper Guild members at Philadelphia’s two newspapers avoided a strike and signed onto a new agreement, many staffers are bracing for layoffs, with some reportedly arriving already today. Rumors of job cuts have been swirling at the newsrooms of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News since last week, according to some guild leaders.

The Associated Press reports this afternoon that the Inquirer began a round of layoffs today. Several reporters at the Inquirer said they were told Tuesday morning that their jobs were being eliminated, according to AP. The employees said that they were told to meet with personnel officials on Wednesday to discuss details of their severance pay and health benefits.

“The specific number of layoffs is still unclear because some Inquirer employees have already taken other jobs since word of the impending layoffs was announced in November,” the AP reports.

Henry Holcomb, president of the Greater Philadelphia Newspaper Guild, said no formal word of layoffs had been announced, adding that the guild had yet to receive notification of any layoff plan. “They are supposed to work with us on things like that,” he told E&P. “We are trying to get a hold of the company to see what is going on.”

The expectation of layoffs, which several guild members have pegged at 80 positions at the Inquirer, prompted an e-mail from Inquirer Columnist Tom Ferrick to guild members on Dec. 28. It offered a Q&A about how to handle a layoff notice.

“As we all know, layoff notices are expected next week and could come as early as Tuesday (Jan. 2), so I am sending this memo in advance to inform you of some basics,” the e-mail from Ferrick said. “This FAQ is intended for those who may receive layoff notices.” The memo went on to remind rank-and-file members of their rights, including the fact that most employees must receive a 30-day notice, that they are entitled to severance pay, and where to file for unemployment insurance. Ferrick could not be reached for comment.

A second memo from Ferrick went out today, noting that “The Guild has received no official notification, but it is obvious the layoffs are underway.” It went on to advise those thinking of taking a voluntary layoff. “It may be something to consider if you were thinking of retiring or quitting this year, if you have another job on the line, or if you simply want to move on at this juncture in the Inquirer?s history,” the memo said, in part. “It is especially advantageous if you have been here more than 16 years and are eligible for full 40 weeks severence but you are below age 60. As a voluntary, you will get the full 40 weeks. If you quit, say, 3 or 4 months from now, your severence would be greatly reduced.”

Some guild officials said that several employees had reported seeing a list of potential layoff targets, with others claiming they had been told by editors that they “may be on a list.”

“When I checked with the Guild office on Friday, they had not yet been given required official notice of pending layoffs,” Holcomb, told E&P in an e-mail earlier today. “At a meeting on another topic, management mentioned that layoffs were still in the works but declined to give specific number or say when we’d get required notice.”

The layoff talk followed Publisher Brian Tierney’s announcement last fall that up to 150 job cuts could be coming to stem financial problems at the papers. Tierney’s Philadelphia Media Holdings bought the former Knight Ridder papers from McClatchy last summer. Tierney and a spokesman for the company, Jay Devine, did not immediately return calls on Tuesday.

The papers’ 900-member guild unit ratified a new three-year contract on Dec. 18 after a bitter negotiation battle that nearly led to a strike. Even with its approval, the guild slammed the new contract for what members contend were negative changes in sick time, pensions, and seniority rules. The guild was one of 10 unions at the paper to approve new contracts at the end of 2006.

Layoffs follow last year’s 80-person job cut at the Inquirer.

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