Union Leaders Pondering Gannett Furlough

By: Joe Strupp

National leaders of two major newspaper unions say Gannett?s request for union members to take part in the planned one-week furlough of all 31,000 U.S. employees seems reasonable, but only if local units agree.

Bernie Lunzer, president of the Newspaper Guild, and Joe Molinero, head of the newspaper craft unit of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, both said their local units will have to decide on a case by case basis if they will agree with the Gannett furlough. The Guild represents some 30,000 members nationally, while the Teamster?s unit has some 9,000 newspaper drivers and mailers.

Neither Lunzer or Molinero had exact numbers of their members at Gannett newspapers.

?We are not opposed to it,? Lunzer, who took over as president last year, said about the furlough idea. ?If it is a legitimate need, it is a creative solution.?

Lunzer?s comments followed Wednesday?s announcement by Gannett that it would institute the furlough for all U.S. employees, who will take a week off without pay during the first three months of 2009. In most cases, contracted unions are not required to follow the directive, but have been asked to take part.

?The unions are being told we would like to do this, the alternative is layoffs,? said Tara Connell, Gannett spokeswoman. ?We are doing it because it is the fairest way to go.?

Connell said only about 12% of the affected U.S. Gannett workforce are union members.

Lunzer said the fiscal reality is clear for Gannett: ?I think everyone is realistic about the current economy. I don?t think anyone believes they are making a pile of money.? But Lunzer stressed that each guild unit would have to decide for itself. ?There may be some units that do not go along with it,? he said. ?It will be an individual situation.?

Both Lunzer and Molinero said they had been contacted by several local units seeking input. Molinero said he is planning a conference call soon with unit presidents to discuss the issue.

?There are pros and cons,? said Molinero, who was more skeptical than Lunzer. ?We have to see what the consensus is. They want to talk to their members. Collectively, we will have to make a decision.?

Molinero stressed that there would have to be clear evidence that Gannett?s problems are bad enough to warrant such a union concession: ?There have been some concessions with Gannett in every contract. At this point it is puzzling. We will do our part to ensure that newspapers survive, but they have to do their part as well.?

Another Teamster leader, George Tedeschi, president of the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters, which handles pressmen, said he had not been contacted by any Gannett units and had no comment on the furlough.

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