After the Pulitzer, layoffs hit staff at East Bay Times
A Guild committee raised questions Thursday about the announced shutdown of the East Bay copy desk by Digital First Media, owner of the Bay Area News Group, and demanded negotiations before the company consolidates editorial production in Southern California.
The consolidation as outlined by DFM management would cause 20 more layoffs from a shrunken roster of about 90 Guild-represented employees in the East Bay.
The layoff announcement came only a week after the East Bay news staff was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “relentless” breaking news coverage of the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland.
During a conference call with company officials Thursday afternoon, Guild representatives noted that the current East Bay labor agreement has specific terms on consolidation — but doesn’t allow work to be consolidated outside BANG. Management expressed a different view, although further discussions are expected.
Copy editors at the Mercury News already have been forced to quit or relocate to the East Bay, where editorial production was moved as part of an earlier reorganization.
During a conference call with staff Tuesday, Neil Chase, executive editor of the Bay Area News Group, offered a congratulatory reference to the Pulitzer before shifting to less welcome news.
He said declining revenue forced the company to cut costs. He also noted that workers are paid less in Southern California than at BANG, responding to an employee who questioned why the work couldn’t be consolidated in the Bay Area. Production capacity was another factor behind the move south, he said.
Guild representatives are demanding negotiations over the decision to consolidate the jobs outside the East Bay bargaining unit, as well as over the impacts of any such decision on the Guild-covered workforce.
DFM’s Monrovia editorial production center, part of the company’s Los Angeles News Group, is located at the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains in suburban Los Angeles County. There is no union contract. Workers put out 11 newspapers, including work recently moved from The Orange County Register, one of DFM’s latest acquisitions.
The new consolidation will leave about 14 copy desk jobs in the East Bay. Some workers may be offered other positions to avert layoff, and some may apply for open positions in Monrovia, company officials said.
The company said it expects to complete the transfer and related job cuts by the end of June.
In a Q&A issued Tuesday, DFM told its workers they must continue to “satisfactorily perform” their jobs and “demonstrate cooperation with the team during the transition period” in order to qualify for severance when they get laid off.
“Satisfactorily performing your job includes making no disparaging remarks about the Company, keeping confidential the terms of your severance agreement, and not releasing any unauthorized materials to the public regarding the above,” the management told BANG workers. The company also said it will require employees to sign a release of claims.
(Editor’s Note: On Thursday, DFM management issued a revised Q&A deleting the language about “disparaging remarks” and removing the extra requirements for receiving severance. Management representatives said that language was included by mistake in the initial document issued two days before.)
Severance terms are covered in the East Bay Guild contract, which provides for a minimum of one week’s pay for each year of service, capped at 12 weeks, plus subsidized health coverage for three months. Laid off workers have rehire rights for six months.
Many jobs already have been cut in previous rounds of consolidation and cost cutting by DFM, a national chain owned by the secretive hedge fund Alden Global Capital. Last year, the company cut 30 percent of its Bay Area workforce.
Outside the BANG workforce, journalists said they were hardly shocked by the news of another layoff or copy desk shutdown, but some were taken aback by the timing so soon after the East Bay staff won journalism’s top honor.
Derek Moore, a reporter at The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa who serves as president of the San Francisco-based Pacific Media Workers Guild, said Alden Global Capital’s actions are “beyond outrageous, coming as they are a little more than a week after the East Bay Times earned a Pulitzer Prize for its fearless coverage of the devastating Ghost Ship fire.”
“We’ve known for a long time that this hedge fund values little beyond its bottom line. Laying off people in this fashion serves only to underscore that truth,” Moore said.