providence newspaper guild

12 in Projo union take buyouts, including Harrop; layoffs loom

October 8th, 2013 at 12:56 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

A dozen members of the Providence Newspaper Guild have agreed to accept buyouts at The Providence Journal but layoffs are still expected to hit the newspaper later this month, a union official said Tuesday.

Guild President John Hill told WPRI.com 12 of his union’s members have taken the buyout, including nationally syndicated opinion columnist Froma Harrop, who serves on The Journal’s five-member editorial board. Harrop has been with the paper since at least the mid-1980s.

Harrop told WPRI.com she will continue to write her twice-weekly column, which is carried in more than 150 newspapers, for distribution by Los Angeles-based Creators Syndicate. The column will continue to appear in The Journal because the paper has agreed to pay to carry it, she said.

Two other newsroom veterans who took buyouts were Richard Dujardin, a longtime religion reporter, and Tracy Breton, a legal and investigative reporter. Dujardin has been with The Journal since 1966, except for a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy, while Breton has been with the newspaper since 1973.

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Projo plans roughly 30 job cuts amid ongoing slump in sales

September 20th, 2013 at 3:25 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Projo_ad_sales_2Q2013Providence Journal executives told employees Friday they plan to cut roughly 30 jobs in the coming weeks through buyouts, and will resort to layoffs if too few workers choose to leave voluntarily, a union official said.

Providence Newspaper Guild President John Hill said reporters, editors and other employees were informed Friday morning about the decision to downsize the staff.

“We were told today they’re looking for in the ballpark of 30 positions but did not have a specific number at this point,” Hill told WPRI.com. “They said the uncertainty is because they want to see how many people will put in for buyouts.”

The Journal’s management plans to get rid of both union and non-union jobs across the company, and Hill said they are “probably looking for more [cuts] from editorial than advertising.” The news was first reported on Twitter by Mike Stanton, who retired recently as The Journal’s chief investigative reporter.

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Projo lays off 23 as ad sales drop 13%; CEO remains gloomy

November 8th, 2012 at 12:38 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Providence Journal laid off at least 23 of its roughly 460 employees this week as the paper struggles to stop a continuing decline in its circulation numbers and advertising sales.

The Journal said on its website 23 full-time workers lost their jobs Wednesday on top of the 11 who accepted a voluntary buyout in September. No reporters or columnists were laid off, and the paper said the cuts would have “minimal impact” on its news coverage. Three photographers reportedly lost their jobs.

Separately, Journal parent company A.H. Belo disclosed that the Providence paper’s total advertising revenue fell 13% compared with last year during the three months ended Sept. 30, to $10.5 million. The paper’s overall revenue rose 0.7% to $23 million as circulation and printing/distribution sales improved.

A.H. Belo CEO Robert Decherd told investors the Dallas-based company’s revenue picture worsened in October. “It’s been a little bit choppier in October and I couldn’t begin to tell you what will happen in November,” he said last week. “We’re definitely seeing a softer market in all three [A.H. Belo] markets – well, Providence and Dallas; Riverside is holding its own.”

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Union: Projo to order layoffs next month after ‘dismal’ October

October 26th, 2012 at 4:58 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Providence Journal is set to lay off more than a dozen employees during the first week of November, according to the president of the newspaper’s largest union.

Providence Newspaper Guild president John Hill told WPRI.com he was informed late Wednesday by Journal executives that the paper had “a dismal October revenue experience” and they’ve decided the only option is to reduce headcount permanently.

“The advertising market is so uncertain,” Hill said Friday. “They do not have confidence in their ability to predict revenue at this point.”

Journal executives are still seeking $1.2 million in savings, which the Guild estimates will require the elimination of roughly 16 of its members’ jobs. The terms of its contract gives the publisher “complete discretion” over the size of the paper’s staff, he said.

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Union: Providence Journal to disclose plan for layoffs Tuesday

October 5th, 2012 at 4:35 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Providence Journal’s top executives will disclose on Tuesday how many employees they’re looking to lay off to deal with its falling advertising revenue, according to the president of the paper’s largest union.

Providence Newspaper Guild President John Hill told WPRI.com he’s been told management will call him Tuesday and provide the number of layoffs it’s expecting to order to reach a certain level of savings.

“And the question will be, how do we achieve those savings?” Hill said. “Do they achieve it by laying people off or do they achieve it by bargaining concessions?” Hill has said repeatedly he wants to sit down with the paper’s management to discuss alternatives to layoffs before they make a move.

“If it’s a number that’s worth five jobs or if it’s a number that’s worth 35 jobs – that’s a completely different conversation,” he said. “We don’t know what we can or should do until we know what that is.” The Guild is surveying its members to see what they would be willing to give up to forestall layoffs.

Hill described the mood inside the newsroom as anxious. “Everybody’s stretched like a snare drum on this,” he said. But he also expressed hope that this morning’s better-than-expected employment report could be a sign the national recovery is picking up steam, which will eventually boost Rhode Island as well.

The Journal’s work force has shrunk by a third to an estimated 468 employees since 2008.

• Related: Projo union may offer concessions to avoid newspaper layoffs (Sept. 14)


Union: At least 8 seek buyout at Projo; layoff outlook unclear

September 17th, 2012 at 5:40 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

More than half a dozen Providence Journal employees are ready to accept a buyout offer from the company and depart their jobs on Sept. 30, according to the newspaper’s largest union.

Journal management has informed the Providence Newspaper Guild that four of the union’s members requested buyouts – two editorial staffers and two advertising staffers, union president John Hill told WPRI.com. The deadline to apply for a buyout was 5 p.m. Monday.

Management also said more than four managers who aren’t Guild members requested buyouts, but the company won’t release the number until Tuesday morning after taking time to review whether any of them are essential to the paper’s functions, according to Hill.

Though no specific target was set, Journal management told the union earlier this month the paper needed “significantly more” than eight employees to volunteer for the buyouts in order to avoid layoffs.

The union isn’t releasing the names of which employees took the buyouts, and Hill cautioned his colleagues about what they’re hearing. “Until things are officially announced, they’re not official – there’s a lot of rumors going around and a lot of them are not correct,” he said.

The Journal’s work force has shrunk by a third to 468 employees since 2008.

• Related: Projo union may offer concessions to avoid newspaper layoffs (Sept. 14)


Projo union may offer concessions to avoid newspaper layoffs

September 14th, 2012 at 2:18 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence Journal’s largest union says it may consider offering contract concessions such as temporary pay cuts in order to avoid layoffs if too few employees accept the voluntary buyout offer put forward last week.

In a letter sent Friday, the Providence Newspaper Guild asked Journal management for a chance to discuss other ways of saving money before the company moves forward with layoffs. Employees must volunteer to take the buyout by Monday and have been warned layoffs could follow if too few accept it.

Guild president John Hill acknowledged it would be new territory for his union to reopen a contract that was already ratified, and he emphasized that no offers can be made until he formally surveys his roughly 220 members to see what they would be willing to accept.

“We want to see if there’s something we can do,” Hill told WPRI.com. Journal management has indicated that it won’t be able to respond to the Guild with specifics until the first week of October, he said. The union would need to vote to approve any deal on concessions.

Hill described the mood in the newsroom as “tense and anxious” with a few days left before Monday afternoon’s deadline to volunteer to leave with a buyout. “The people who are most vulnerable [to layoffs] are some of our best – we’re going to build a future on these guys,” he said. “We’ll lose the seed corn if this goes through.”

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Projo parent AH Belo’s board awards big raises to top bosses

March 20th, 2012 at 3:26 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Top executives at The Providence Journal’s parent company, A.H. Belo, are getting big pay raises despite a 45% decline in the publisher’s stock price during 2011, the fourth straight year it lost money.

The compensation committee of A.H. Belo’s board of directors awarded the largest increase to CEO Robert Decherd. His annual base salary will jump 25% to $600,000 in April, the Dallas-based company said in an SEC filing. Decherd is chairman of the board.

In addition, A.H. Belo said Dallas Morning News publisher Jim Moroney’s base salary will increase 15.5% to $540,000; Chief Financial Officer Alison Engel’s will increase 8.3% to $325,000; and senior vice president Daniel Blizzard’s will increase 12% to $280,000. Their total compensation for 2011 will be reported later this spring.

John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild union, said the four executives “should be ashamed of themselves” for taking more money less than a year after laying off and buying out Journal staffers. The paper’s work force fell by a third between 2008 and 2011. The Guild signed a new contract in February 2011.

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Projo’s own ‘pension puzzle’: paper froze its underfunded plan

December 12th, 2011 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

After spending much of this year covering Rhode Island’s debate on the topic, staffers at The Providence Journal now face a “pension puzzle” of their own – whether to accept a corporate buyout, and the retirement benefit that comes with it.

The Journal wants eight employees to agree to buyouts by Friday, and their union says those who do will be eligible for a pension next year. But the pension plan itself is significantly underfunded, and the benefit on offer has changed significantly over the past decade, particularly for younger employees.

Projo parent company A.H. Belo’s two pension plans were 64% funded as of Dec. 31, 2010, with an unfunded liability of $132.4 million, SEC filings show. Experts say government pension plans should be at least 80% funded, and the federal government requires private ones like A.H. Belo’s to inform beneficiaries if their funding dips below the 80% benchmark.

To put the 64% figure in perspective, the Rhode Island pension system’s funded level rose from 48% to 60% after the new law was signed last month. All but seven of the state’s 24 cities and towns with locally run pension plans are worse-funded than A.H. Belo’s, but its $132 million unfunded liability is bigger than all but three of theirs; it’s roughly the same shortfall as Pawtucket faces.

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Projo to cut newsroom staff amid ongoing ad, circulation slump

December 2nd, 2011 at 12:09 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Providence Journal has offered eight buyouts to its employees and may cut more positions depending on the level of interest in the offer, a union official said Friday.

The staff reductions will be the first cuts to The Journal’s newsroom since multiple rounds of layoffs in 2008 and 2009. They come as the paper prepares to begin charging next year for its new website, which debuted Oct. 17. The news was first reported by Scott MacKay of Rhode Island Public Radio.

The Journal is looking to cut one reporter, one copy editor, one photographer and one editorial assistant, plus four advertising representatives, said John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild. Employees in other jobs have been encouraged to apply for a buyout if they’re interested in leaving, he said.

“The impression we’re getting is there’s a dollar amount in terms of the total amount of savings they want,” Hill told WPRI.com. Layoffs will take place if the company doesn’t reach its goal and are decided by seniority, he said. The Dallas Morning News, its sister paper, reportedly laid off 38 newsroom staffers in September.

Journal employees have until Dec. 16 to decide whether to agree to a buyout, which Journal insiders described as less generous than previous offers. They would remain on the payroll until Dec. 30 and be eligible for a pension from the newspaper in 2012.

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Projo union’s president blasts bonuses at A.H. Belo

April 6th, 2011 at 12:06 pm by under Nesi's Notes

John Hill

The leader of The Providence Journal’s largest union is not pleased that its parent company increased top executives’ compensation last year.

John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild, offered his reaction after Dallas-based A.H. Belo disclosed in an SEC filing Monday that its five top executives received larger pay packages in 2010, including nearly $1.6 million in cash bonuses.

“Those of us in the Providence Newspaper Guild, when we agreed to assume a larger share of our health insurance costs this year, thought we were doing it to help protect the financial future of our paper, not pad the wallets of Belo’s Dallas executives,” Hill said in an e-mail.

A.H. Belo did not respond to a request for comment.

Hill’s members voted 147-50 on Feb. 16 in favor of a new three-year contract with The Journal and A.H. Belo that will freeze wages and increase medical costs but that supporters also hope will protect some jobs.

Prior to the vote, Hill said the contract made “the best of a bad situation.” This week, though, he chastised management for pushing reporters and other employees at The Journal to accept reduced benefits while increasing their own compensation.

“These kinds of actions will make it that much harder to believe them the next time they ask us to give up even more,” Hill said.

The new contract between The Journal and the Guild’s roughly 250 members took effect on April 1 and will continue through Dec. 31, 2013. The Projo is the only one of A.H. Belo’s three papers whose workers are unionized.

Hill was elected the Providence Guild’s president in 2003 following a bitter battle between management and labor at The Journal. He has run unopposed for the union’s top post since 2004.

(photo: Providence Newspaper Guild)


Projo union OKs new 3-year contract with AH Belo

February 16th, 2011 at 6:43 pm by under General Talk

The Providence Journal’s largest union has approved a new three-year contract with the newspaper that will freeze wages and increase medical costs but that supporters also hope will protect some jobs.

The final vote today was 147-50 in favor, Providence Newspaper Guild President John Hill told me this evening after union officials tallied the ballots. Turnout among eligible voters was about 83%.

“This was difficult for everybody,” Hill said. “Even the people who voted yes didn’t like it. We lost ground economically under this deal – even though there’s no pay cut, our health costs are going to go up, in some cases significantly.

“So in that sense, I think even the yeses were holding their noses,” he said.

The new contract covers the Guild’s roughly 250 workers. It will take effect on April 1 and continue through Dec. 31, 2013; the union’s previous pact expired at the end of last year. The Journal is the only one of A.H. Belo’s three papers whose workers are unionized.

“There was a significant amount of upset about this, but the [newspaper] business all over New England and all over the country is in tough shape right now,” Hill said, adding: “My standard line is [this contract] is a product of its times, and those times in the newspaper business are bad.”

Hill, a veteran Journal reporter, put the situation more starkly in a letter to his members last week that noted the paper’s daily circulation has fallen below 100,000 and its advertising revenue is down by more than half.

“You don’t have to look at the empty desks in your work areas, or walk past the third-floor offices full of file boxes instead of people, to be reminded of how many of our friends were laid off in 2008-09,” he said.

For more details on the contract, check out my original post about it and my follow-up interviews with Hill from Feb. 2 and Feb. 11.


Projo union to vote Wednesday on new contract

February 11th, 2011 at 10:39 am by under General Talk

Reporters and other rank-and-file members of The Providence Journal’s largest union will vote Wednesday on whether to approve a new three-year contract that would freeze wages and raise medical costs but may protect some jobs, the union’s chief told me this morning.

The Providence Newspaper Guild will hold a meeting for its 250 members on Monday, followed by question-and-answer sessions Tuesday and then a formal all-day vote Wednesday, union president John Hill told WPRI.com.

The votes will be counted Wednesday evening. “I don’t want to go to bed not knowing” the outcome, said Hill, a longtime Journal reporter.

Asked what he was hearing from members about the proposed agreement, Hill said: “Nobody’s happy about it. It sucks.”

But, he continued, the bargaining committee felt this was the best deal it could secure, particularly when newspaper employees elsewhere are taking wage cuts as opposed to the proposed freeze at the Projo.

To demonstrate how much the Journal has changed since the last contract was negotiated in 2007, Hill went into the paper’s archive to compare its Jan. 25 edition from that year with the one from this year.

The Jan. 25, 2007, Projo was 64 pages long; the Jan. 25, 2011, edition was down to just 36 pages.

The paper’s revenue has fallen by double-digits and its head count has been reduced by more than 100 over that time period. ”For us to get a freeze – I know a lot of people aren’t thrilled about it, and I don’t blame them for not being thrilled about it, but I do think in the context of what’s going on, it’s the best of a bad situation,” Hill said.

The union chief also expressed cautious optimism about the potential that better days are ahead for the newspaper industry. As publishers return to profitability, that could draw in new owners – perhaps including employee owners, as is the case in Portland – and help the union get back some of what it has given up recently, Hill suggested.


Hill hopes Projo union’s new contract will ‘save jobs’

February 2nd, 2011 at 4:44 pm by under General Talk

Negotiations over a new contract for Providence Journal reporters and other employees represented by the Providence Newspaper Guild moved quickly once the two sides agreed to a new health insurance plan, union chief John Hill told me today.

“Five years ago we would have laughed that offer off the table,” Hill said. But “we think in the context of the times, it’s about as good as we’re going to get.”

If approved, the new three-year contract between the Guild and the A.H. Belo-owned Journal would freeze wages and raise medical costs for the union’s roughly 250 members once it takes effect on April 1.

“The basic objective here is to save some jobs if we can,” Hill said. The Journal lost about 150 employees between mid-2008 and March 2009, reducing its total headcount to 562 full- and part-time workers.

While acknowledging that “people don’t like the idea of paying more” – and even he is “not thrilled about it” – Hill said he will push his colleagues to vote in favor of the new contract, which was approved unanimously by the union’s bargaining committee.

Hill emphasized that under the new contract, the maximum out-of-pocket cost for medical expenses a Journal employee would face is $850 for an individual and $1,700 for a family. He also said negotiators fought hard to cap the co-pay rate at 10%. [See the update below for more on that.]

The contract has been approved by the regional union and will now go before the Newspaper Guild-CWA international in Washington, a largely pro forma step.

After that, the contract will be submitted to the Guild’s 250 or so members at the Projo. The day-long ratification vote is likely to take place either at the end of next week or during the week of Feb. 14, Hill said.

If the contract is approved, Hill said he is confident A.H. Belo will not seek to reopen its terms before the agreement expires in 2014. “I think there would have to be some kind of catastrophic change in the business for that to happen,” he said.

Hill was elected the union’s president in 2003 following a bitter battle between management and labor. “It was as bad as the relationship had been maybe since the ’70s,” he said. In recent years, though, “both sides have worked very hard at working with each other.”

Hill, who has not had an opponent for the Guild presidency since 2004, also said he would like to continue to lead the union “for a while” if its members will continue to support him.

Update: A reader familiar with the terms of the proposed contract writes in to point out that describing the co-pays as capped at 10% doesn’t really capture the full range of costs Journal employees will face under the new agreement.

Since these things get pretty complicated, let me quote directly from the union’s latest bargaining bulletin:

With a few exceptions, the agreement calls on us to pay 10% of the bills for many of the services we use, and increases fixed-amount copays for office visits. …

Rates in 2012 will be unchanged from 2011. Some copays, deductibles and maximums go up in 2013. …

The first hit is a new deductible. Individuals will pay for the first $100 (for families, $200) of their medical expenses under the new contract. Those would rise to $200/$400 in 2013.

After that, each of us would pay about 10% of our major medical bills, until we reach an out-of-pocket maximum of $750 per person ($1,500 per family) per year for 2011 and in 2012. Once we hit those limits, the company’s plan will pay for everything. The out-of-pocket maximums will rise to $1,000 per person and $2,000 per family in 2013. …

Office copays will also increase. Current office visits of all kinds are $10 each. That cost will rise to $20 per visit for primary care doctors and for specialists for 2011 and 2012. In 2013, specialist visits will increase to $30 per visit. Emergency room visit copays will be $75 in 2011-12 and $100 in 2013.

For prescription drugs, the copays will be $5 for generic brands, $20 for preferred brands and $40 for non-preferred in 2011-12. The preferred cost will go to $25 and the non-preferred to $40 in 2013.

Office visit copays and prescription drug costs will not count toward the out-of-pocket maximums. Anything with a percentage copay will count toward out-of-pocket maximums. Anything with a set dollar amount won’t, and you will have to pay those charges even after you hit your out-of-pocket maximum. …

The new agreement also calls for our weekly premium contribution to go from 15 percent to 20 percent, which will mean a jump of about $2.50 a week for an individual and $8 a week for a family plan.

One thing Hill mentioned to me earlier that I didn’t include in this post was that the Guild’s bargaining committee traded a lower co-pay for specialist visits in exchange for a higher co-pay for emergency room trips. He said that reflected the priorities of his members.

“Our argument was a specialist is not a discretionary thing,” Hill said. “Your primary care doctor looked and said, ‘I can’t handle this – you need someone who knows what they’re doing.’ “


Projo union reaches tentative deal on 3-year contract

February 2nd, 2011 at 10:23 am by under General Talk

The Providence Journal and its largest union, the Providence Newspaper Guild, have reached a tentative deal on a new three-year contract that will freeze wages and raise medical costs for the union’s roughly 250 members.

“We will lose some ground economically under the proposed agreement, and if this were five years ago, we wouldn’t even consider it,” the Guild said in a statement.

“But when you look at the devastating job losses in the newspaper business nationally and the downward trend in salaries and benefits in New England [newspaper employee] contracts over the past three years, we feel this is a deal we can live with,” it continued.

Guild President John Hill could not immediately be reached for comment. The new contract is scheduled to take effect on April 1, and its provisions include:

  • on health insurance, 10% co-pays for most medical services, a new deductible, and higher premium contributions
  • a wage freeze that calls for no raises at the Projo until other A.H. Belo employees receive cumulative increases of more than 2.5%, because Guild members did not take a companywide 2.5% pay cut in 2009
  • three paid days off in the contract’s first year if other A.H. Belo workers get a raise

Judging by the Guild’s statement, the health changes will be the toughest for its members to swallow. Here’s the union’s explanation of why it agreed to what it did:

The major changes in the agreement are in how we pay for our health insurance. Our current health plan was negotiated in 2007, well before the credit collapse triggered a near-depression in the news business that has seen papers across the country either go out of business or shed a quarter to a third of their staffs.

Our current health coverage plan was negotiated with a Providence Journal Co. that had 120 more employees than it does now, before three straight years of double-digit revenue drops.

In the surveys we distributed last fall, a huge majority said your top priority was protecting our health coverage – and you said you were willing to pay more to do that. That’s what this agreement does.

The changes don’t affect coverage. The doctor networks remain the same. The conditions and procedures that were covered before, except for in-vitro fertilization, remain covered in the proposed agreement. What changes is how much we pay. …

These are significant changes, especially when you look at our 2007 plan, which, but for a few office visit copays, essentially provided completely covered medical care. But when you look at the rest of Belo, we are still far, far better off.

I’ll update with more information if I can get John Hill on the phone. The Projo has about 320 workers who are unionized in total, so about 70 of them won’t be covered by this contract – although their contracts usually track the Guild’s.

For more on the Projo, check out my catch-all post from November.