reps at the Times Union are locked in painful contract
talks with management
The clock for the Albany Newspaper Guild is ticking. The 75-year-old
union shop, which represents 300 employees at the Times
Union, is engaged in contract negotiations with
the TU’s parent company, Hearst Corp. These negotiations
are playing out during an unprecedented downturn in the newspaper
industry and have been, according to guild President Tim O’Brien,
Over the past week, Hearst, a privately held company, continued
its drastic steps to reverse what it claims has been a nine-year
run of money loss. On Tuesday, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
a Hearst paper, ran its final print edition after 146 years,
and laid off around 130 editorial staffers, switching to an
online-only model manned by a 20-person newsroom. Also, over
the weekend, Hearst finally broke the guild that represents
the employees of its San Francisco Chronicle, after
issuing the threat that it would lay off 50 percent more people
than its standing offer of 150 if the union wouldn’t concede
to the company’s demands. These demands included increased
work weeks, decreased paid vacation, reduced company assistance
in health-care costs, and one of the most contentious: stripping
language from the union contract that protects seniority guidelines
In Albany, Hearst is seeking a similar concession from the
guild, said O’Brien, and has threatened that if the union
doesn’t agree to strike the strict seniority protections,
among other things, that it will cancel the union’s contract
on April 9.
O’Brien has called the threat “an unprecedented assault on
He pointed out that the union has made many attempts to find
common ground with the company, offering concessions that
include an across-the-board wage cut of 5 percent, reduced
overtime, and a voluntary furlough of a week off without pay.
obviously wouldn’t save every job,” O’Brien said. “We know
that. We know that we aren’t going to save every job. We were
hoping to reduce the numbers.” Currently, he said, the company
is talking about laying off 65 to 70 people. “That is up to
29 percent of our membership.”
Members of the union, O’Brien said, understand that in this
economy layoffs are to be expected, but what the union doesn’t
want to compromise on are the demands that it believes will
damage the paper’s long-term ability to produce a quality
Again, he pointed to the company’s demand for concession in
the seniority language.
elephant in the room here is favoritism,” he said.
they going to target all the union activists?” O’Brien asked.
“Are they going to look at how much you cost them in health
care and say, ‘If we get rid of these five or six people,
you can drive down insurance costs’?”
Another disconcerting concession that the management is seeking,
said O’Brien, is to strip language that protects jobs from
Outsourcing is a growing trend in the newspaper industry,
with some papers, including the Miami Herald, even
outsourcing parts of its copy editing and layout to India.
The problems of outsourcing the copy editing are obvious,
he said. “People who wouldn’t know if a street name was misspelled,
or if a town name was misspelled. People who wouldn’t know
how to spell Schaghticoke.”
While Hearst has not outlined specific plans for downsizing
the newsroom through outsourcing, O’Brien has pressed the
company to explain why it wants certain language removed from
the contract, and the company has said only that it wants
This aside, the guild faces a certain and dramatic loss of
members, and the challenge of trying to operate in a company
that no longer recognizes its bargaining power.
One newsroom source pointed out that the management is trying
to claim that the guild is the problem: “It is not.”
If management is serious about negotiating a fair contract,
the source said, than it could easily make cuts to its ranks,
as well. “The ranks of management have just as many expendable
people. If not on the basis of raw numbers, certainly relatively
speaking on percentages.”
to cancel the contract has riled people up in a way that they
haven’t been riled up before,” said O’Brien, “and it forces
us to do things, as you’ll see and hear about in coming days,
that we had no intention to do.”
This week, the guild made clear its plan to answer the company’s
combative stance by calling for a boycott of the TU’s
advertisers. “It’s not that that is something we want to do,”
said O’Brien, “but we need leverage, too.”
has brass balls,” the newsroom source said. “He is not giving
in. But even if O’Brien negotiates a good deal, he is going
to have to give way on the seniority issue.” The best O’Brien
can possibly do, “the best he can hope for, is that the union
only has to bear its proportionate share of the cuts.”
George Hearst, the publisher of the TU, did not respond
to a request for interview.
The union will meet with the management on Friday.
students make easy targets for rash of robberies in Pine Hills
was a busy week for both partygoers and police following a
number of robberies in the heavily student-populated Pine
The five robberies, all of which involved victims in their
early 20s and four of which took place after midnight, have
some students concerned, but many say they aren’t going to
cut back on their weekend plans.
not exactly comforting,” said Jessie Szary, a college student
living on Ontario Street who was out celebrating Saturday.
“But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to go out and have fun.”
The Albany Police Department arrested one suspect, Justin
Adams, in relation to two muggings that took place at 4 AM
on Morris Street. Adams reportedly told police that he was
specifically going after students who were obviously intoxicated.
also warmer weather now, people are out,” said James Miller
of the APD. “Particularly college students are going to be
out in a much larger number.”
Miller also addressed the number of muggings where the victim
had been drinking, saying that “somebody that’s visibly intoxicated,
that puts them obviously in a much more vulnerable state.”
Miller said that police are looking into potential connections
between the robberies, and responding by making adjustments
in the way they police the neighborhood.
you specifically see a pattern in a specific area, like Pine
Hills where there’s been more than a couple of incidents,
you’ll see an increase in police presence there,” Miller said.
The same pattern took place in the spring of 2008 after the
mugging of two UAlbany students in the early hours of April
29 outside of Alumni Quad.
really nothing new,” said Stephen Stella, director of security
at the College of Saint Rose, which is located in Pine Hills.
“If you’re alone, you’re very vulnerable. If you’re in a physical
condition where you’re not responsive to your environment,
you’re at high risk.”
Saint Rose has responded to the recent robberies by sending
out safety-alert e-mails to students, as well as increasing
the security presence around campus. On Tuesday night they
added extra neighborhood patrols to accommodate those who
were out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
are also starting up the Albany Police Neighborhood Patrol,
where the college contracts with the APD to provide extra
patrols in the neighborhood,” Stella said. “It’s been a very
effective tool for us.” The additional patrols from the APD
are on foot until midnight, after which they patrol in vehicles.
Saint Rose, like many other colleges, also offers a security
escort service, but some underage drinkers living on campus
are hesitant to use the service out of fear of punishment
from the college.
no hard and fast rule; it would depend on the situation. It
is a policy violation at the college,” Stella said, regarding
how the college handles such incidences. He advises students
to use public transportation or a taxi, and to have a game
Security officials from Saint Rose, the University Police
at UAlbany and the APD all appear to work together closely
when tackling the issue of safety in the Pine Hills neighborhood.
work with universities and colleges about stressing to students—particularly
if they’re going to be out partying—not to consume too much
alcohol, particularly late at night or to the point that they
drop their inhibitions or put themselves in the position where
they can become a victim,” Miller said.
Others feel that college students should take responsibility
for keeping themselves out of dangerous situations. In response
to an Albany Student Press blog post on the Times Union’s
Web site about a robbery, one person commented saying that
“crime isn’t the problem here, stupidity is. . . . How about
not walking the streets with a big red target on your back
or carrying a sign saying ‘Hey, I’m drunk and mom sent me
200 bucks yesterday, it’s in my pocket!’—at some point, these
college kids (who are actually adults) will have to start
taking some responsibility for their actions.”
According to Miller, the city of Albany has no public intoxication
not any particular laws that way. Obviously if someone consumes
too much alcohol and gets unruly they can be arrested for
disorderly conduct, but not public intoxication,” Miller said,
meaning that the police can make an arrest only if a person
gets drunk enough to a be perpetrator, not a victim.
Christine Bouchard, vice president of UAlbany’s Division of
Student Success, sent an e-mail to students over the weekend
encouraging them to drink safely.
of you will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this weekend,”
the e-mail read. “This is a typical time for students to let
their guards down regarding personal safety—either with too
much drinking or travelling alone.”
The e-mail contained the same general safety tips offered
by other colleges and police, such as walking in groups and
being aware of your surroundings. However, these common-sense
tips can easily be forgotten after a night at one of the 13
bars in a four-block radius of Alumni Quad.
loose ends this week-