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Back to Work?

Local daily plans to appeal judge’s order to reinstate 11 employees

George Hearst, publisher of the Times Union, confirmed that the Hearst Corporation would be fighting the ruling by a National Labor Relations Board judge that found them guilty of violating labor law when they laid off 11 people last September.

“We don’t agree with the decision that was handed down,” said Hearst. “We plan to appeal it up to the [NLRB] in Washington and then we’ll see where we go from there.”

This recent development is the latest chapter in a litigation battle between the Newspaper Guild of Albany and the Times Union. The conflict began in April 2009 when the paper’s parent company, Hearst, canceled the contract it had with the guild over proposed cuts and outsourcing of jobs. The newspaper’s subsequent proposal was rejected by members of the guild.

NLRB Judge Mark Carissimi’s decision hinged on the fact that the newspaper acted on an illegitimate impasse it declared by laying off the 11 employees. According to labor law, either party may declare an impasse but may not make decisions based on that declaration. Hearst said that his company’s appeal strategy will be to argue that the declaration of impasse was indeed legitimate.

In his decision, Carissimi wrote, “while the [TU] bargained over the layoffs it desired to make, it did not bargain over the decision to place employees on paid leave, and this action had an integral impact on the bargaining regarding the layoff criteria.” Carissimi wrote that the newspaper was spurred on by an “arbitrary deadline” it set to reduce labor costs by the end of September 2009.

Hearst was of a different opinion, stating that it was the Newspaper Guild of Albany, which represents the laid-off employees that failed to “provide a meaningful counter-proposal or response to our proposal which ultimately led to the second declaration of impasse and then the subsequent elimination of jobs that we had been discussing.”

That is untrue, according to Tim O’Brien, president of the Newspaper Guild of Albany. O’Brien said that the union was willing to make concessions on the strict seniority standards that were first put in place by the newspaper. One of the concessions in play was allowing the newspaper to disregard seniority if a case could be made for such an action.

“When Mr. Hearst talks he always ignores that,” said O’Brien. “He acts like we aren’t willing to discuss any change to the way things function and that’s just not true, we were willing to offer those kinds of concessions.”

Reporter Alan Wechsler was with the Times Union for 11 years covering a variety of beats before he was let go last year. “They had been talking about layoffs for months, so it wasn’t a great surprise when it happened,” said Wechsler.

Wechsler said that aside from the obvious financial burden, the biggest ordeal was being forced out of a job he loved while negotiations were ongoing. “I guess rather than juggle people around they just figured it was easiest to just boot out the people whose jobs they wanted to end,” said Wechsler.

Hearst said that laid-off employees were not targeted based on their income level, but rather on an intricate series of considerations. “It’s a very complex set of discussions, it’s a very complex set of criteria, and each one was vetted through many layers of people,” said Hearst. “The motivation was realizing the need to restructure and restructure wisely, not just by the numbers.”

Hearst cited the multiple awards for excellence in journalism that the Times Union has recently won as a barometer of the atmosphere in the newsroom. “If you look at our productivity as a measure of morale, I would say that, generally speaking, people are hard at work, understanding the challenges that face our industry, and they’re doing a great job.”

Veteran TU reporter Carol DeMare said that while union employees are pleased with the judge’s decision, there is no illusion that this is over. “I just think that people realized it’s going to be a long process. The side that lost in the early round has every right to appeal.”

The newspaper has 14 days to reinstate the employees unless they file an appeal, which is more than likely. However, O’Brien said he feels comfortable that the court’s decision leaves little open to alternative interpretations.

“It seems to us that appealing it is really just a case of dragging this out rather than doing the right thing,” said O’Brien. “They have the right to appeal, doesn’t mean it’s right to appeal.”

 

—Daniel Fitzsimmons





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