Layoffs hit Philly papers, union pledges a fight

    UPDATED AT1:45 p.m.

    It’s a sad day at my alma mater, the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, where 19 people were given layoff notices yesterday.

    Since I mentioned this prominently in an earlier post, I should note that the Daily News’ Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Signe Wilkinson was spared the axe. That’s smart for the company and I’m happy for her, but there’s no celebrating when so many talented journalists are out the door, facing a grim job market.

    Among those I’m told who are laid off from the Daily News are Natalie Pompilio, a gifted writer and reporter who sits at the desk I had at the paper, and Don Groff, a smart man who works the copy desk and happens to be a great photographer, whose work I’ve seen mostly in the form of moving photos of departing staff members.

    And I understand Daily News phtographer Sarah Glover, who landed at the paper a few years ago when the Inquirer was cutting staff, took a buyout to avoid a certain layoff.

    The Newspaper Guild, which represents reporters, photographers, editors and others at the company has come out fighting, promising to fight the layoffs through the grievance procedure.

    The Guild says the layoffs fail to meet the “good and reasonable cause” criteria in the union contract, and adds, “unfortunately CEO Greg Osberg, in efforts to make the books look more attractive to whatever investment group he has wrangled to buy the company, so long as they keep him on, believes that the region can be served with less journalists.”

    Company spokesman Mark Block issued a statement (full text below) saying the about the staff cuts were prompted by “the unfortunate economic conditions that continue to impact our industry.”

    In a brief interview, Block had this to say about the Guild’s comments about the management of Philadelphia Media Network and its CEO, Greg Osberg: “Greg has always had an open door policy with the leadership of the Guild. This level of concern by the leadership was a surprise, because they’ve never approached Greg with any of these specific issues ….he would be responsive to any meeting request that either Dan (Guild President Dan Gross) or Bill (Executive Director Bill Ross)would make.”

    Here’s the Guild statement in full:

    Dear Guild member,This morning the Guild received notice from Philadelphia Media Network that it plans to lay off 19 members on March 31.Those targeted for layoff are: Two full-time Inquirer reporters, threepart-time Inquirer reporters, four part-time Inquirer copy editors, onepart-time Inquirer artist, one full-time Daily News reporter, onepart-time Daily News reporter, three part-time Daily News copy editors,one part-time Daily News desk assistant, one Daily News part-timeeditorial clerk. and two part-time Philly.com multi-media contentproducers. These layoffs come after 21 members applied for and were approved forvoluntary separation. While many of the volunteers wanted to leave,others made the difficult decision to apply because they knew howvulnerable they would be in a layoff.As per Article 28.1 of the Guild contract, layoffs are only to be madein the event of “good and reasonable cause,” and the Guild and companyare to discuss the need for the layoffs. Over the next 15 days we willengage the company about why the layoffs are unnecessary. If they arestill implemented we will challenge the layoffs through the contract’sgrievance and arbitration procedure.It is our position that between the significant savings of the salariesof the members who volunteered to leave, and the concessionary contractin 2010 that gave the new owners $6 million in cost cuts from our union,that enough is enough. According to a recent Inquirer story, Philadelphia Media Network made a$4 million profit last year.For the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com to remain a viable operationin the 24/7 digital media landscape we believe that more employees, notless are required. Unfortunately CEO Greg Osberg, in efforts to makethe books look more attractive to whatever investment group he haswrangled to buy the company, so long as they keep him on, believes thatthe region can be served with less journalists. Perhaps instead of killing stories he didn’t like about the sale of thecompany and trying to be seen as some sort of digital visionary byholding press conferences at the Academy of Natural Sciences, givingfree rent to start-up companies who play ping pong on the 5th floor at400 N. Broad, creating a poorly-launched tablet and worrying about appsthat make a few dollars, Osberg should be focused on properly staffingthe newspapers in a manner that will allow more copies to be sold. Theduplication of stories in both papers and the ongoing push to dump moreand more content onto Philly.com will not solve any revenue problems.Whether Osberg wants to admit it or not, the print editions of theInquirer and Daily News, which he offensively labels “legacy products,”are responsible for generating more than 90 percent of the revenue.Osberg speaks of something called “Project Liberty,” though nobody seemsclear on exactly what that is. We believe our journalists should begiven the liberty to continue working to serve the community thatdepends on us.In solidarity,Dan Gross, President,Bill Ross, Executive Director,and the Executive Board of the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers ofAmerica Local 38010 

    And here’s company spokesman Mark Block’s statement about the staff reductions:

    Today, through a combination of voluntary buyouts and layoffs, Philadelphia Media Network (PMN) has responded to the unfortunate economic conditions that continue to impact our industry.  We believe that one employee receiving a layoff notification is too many and regret having to make such a difficult decision relative to the future of any PMN employee.  Our hope was that a voluntary buyout offering would have limited the need to implement any employee layoffs, but the reality is that was not achieved and those employees receiving layoff notification will depart at the end of March.  Our policy is to respect the privacy and confidentiality of our employees, and we will continue a precedence of following our company policy in not responding to specific media inquiries about the status of any employee relative to a voluntary buyout or layoff notification.

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