‘Pioneer Press’ Layoffs Spark Guild Criticism

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By: Joe Strupp

The latest layoffs at the St. Paul Pioneer Press are drawing criticism from the local Newspaper Guild, which claims the paper bypassed its usual practice of offering 14-days notice.

In a guild bulletin first posted on the Poynter.org Romenesko site, the Twin Cities Newspaper Guild claims that nine layoffs this week were announced with no advanced warning.

“They were simply called to a meeting and told they were done. The only notice the Guild office received was a single, vague voicemail left Tuesday for Executive Officer Darren Carroll by Labor Relations Director Marc Chrismer,” the bulletin said, in part. “In the past, the company has given employees who are being laid off 14 days’ notice. This period has provided them the chance to investigate and exercise their contractual right to keep working in a job they have held previously. The period also gave employees who have served the company well and are losing their job through no fault of their own some time to find new work.”

A story in the Pioneer Press today reported the layoffs, adding that the cutbacks “followed a union decision in December to reject a company plan to restructure an employee pension plan.” The layoffs also followed a buyout in December that resulted in 30 employees, including 21 in the newsroom, leaving.

“The paper had proposed freezing a long-standing defined-benefit pension plan and instead providing a 401(k) plan with a company match for workers represented by the Minnesota Newspaper Guild,” the paper reported. “The union rejected the proposal, saying workers would come out with lesser benefits.” Publisher Par Ridder told the paper that that union rejection “created a hole in our budget.”

Chrismer confirmed the layoffs, noting that eight were guild members, but offered no other specifics. The guild said at least five of those who lost their jobs were in advertising and circulation, adding that five other guild members had been laid off in December.

Chrismer declined further comment, referring questions to Human Resources Director Karen Clary, who could not immediately be reached for comment. The guild memo said that the union was seeking a definitive list of laid off employees and will review the procedures involved to make sure they do no conflict with contract requirements.

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