Union accepts cuts in response to Hearst threat to shut down SF Chronicle

by Associated Press

The San Francisco Chronicle and its largest union reached a tentative agreement on contract concessions that are part of the newspaper's efforts to dramatically cut costs to prevent a sale or closure.

The terms reached Monday with the California Media Workers Guild give the company expanded ability to lay off employees without regard to seniority, according to a statement on the guild's Web site.

Michael Cabanatuan, president of the guild and a reporter at the Chronicle, said the concessions also include less vacation time and longer work weeks for the same wage.

Additionally, employees who are laid off or accept buyouts will receive two weeks of pay per year of service totaling a maximum of one year's salary and health benefits for the length of the severance package.

Mr. Cabanatuan said the company wasn't required to discuss possible layoffs during the contract negotiations. But he said the guild, whose roughly 480 members at the newspaper include reporters and advertising staff, is bracing for about 150 job cuts.

The newspaper's management had threatened to lay off 225 employees with less generous severance packages if the guild had been unwilling to modify the labor contract, according to the union.

Guild members still have to approve the agreement. A vote could come as early as Thursday.

"We believe [these concessions are] necessary to save the newspaper," Mr. Cabanatuan said. "I think we're doing more than our share."

Frank J. Vega, chairman and publisher of the Chronicle, said in a statement quoted on the newspaper's Web site the Chronicle will now focus on reaching an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853, to "accomplish the additional cost savings required to ensure the newspaper's survival."

The Hearst Corp., which owns the Chronicle, warned last month that it would be forced to sell or close the newspaper if it couldn't reduce expenses quickly.

The company has lost money since it purchased the newspaper in 2000, as advertising revenue declined. Now, the economic recession along with more advertising options on the Internet have apparently pushed the 144-year-old newspaper to the brink of closure.

An after-hours call to Hearst spokesman Paul Luthringer wasn't immediately returned Monday.

article originally published at http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey