The San Jose Mercury News completed a round of layoffs Tuesday that trimmed its workforce by 35 employees in one of the first big moves under its new owner, MediaNews Group.
The layoffs, which began Monday night, came just after the company reached a tentative agreement on a labor contract with its largest union, the San Jose Newspaper Guild, Monday morning. The last-minute deal, which followed a 20-hour negotiating session, reduced the number of job cuts by more than half–for now. Singleton’s Media News Group said they don’t believe there will be more cuts until June.
Monday: Waiting by the phone, nashing of teeth. All of the Guild/CWA union editorial employees at the San Jose Mercury News, once the admired staff of the high-tech gem of the newspaper industry, have been ordered to not come to work tomorrow, December 5 between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Mercury News’ new owners/managers told the journalists last week that they should remain at home, waiting by their phones for a call that will tell them whether they’ve lost their jobs.
Merc managers plan to lay off 101 newspaper staffers. Union employees plan to wear all-black outfits today and Tuesday or black armbands as a show of… something. It’s another chapter covered more accurately by citizen journalists than the newspaper industry.
“It’s the largest layoff in Mercury News history – that I’m aware of,” said Luther Jackson, executive director of the San Jose Newspaper Guild/CWA union.
Once the laid-off employees receive the bad news, they will be given a time on Saturday and Sunday December 9 and 10 to come into the office and collect their belongings. But they won’t have access to their computers.
Merc managers plan to immediately turn off the laid-off employees’ computers and change their passwords. This plan has prompted dozens of union staffers in to begin downloading or printing out their phone numbers, source lists, and key work they don’t want to lose. “People are e-mailing stuff to their private e-mail accounts or downloading stuff like crazy,” said one Merc reporter.
What do they plan to do with their source lists? What kind of value can they be without a major media outlet?
Plans for layoffs went on without interruption last week after the union refused to capitulate to MediaNews requests for concessions on their old media union contract, written years ago before the sale of Knight Ridder and the death spiral of newspapers. The company that now owns the Oakland Tribune and several purchased the Merc in August, along with the Contra Costa Times , and then requested that the Merc union employees agree to wide-ranging cuts. One of the major sticking points in the bargaining talks centered on MediaNews’ demand that it be allowed to assign work now done by Merc reporters and photographers to lower-paid staffers at the company’s other papers. MediaNews told the union that the concessions could save 27 of the 69 total union positions that are to be eliminated on Tuesday. But union negotiators refused to concede, because MediaNews would not offer any guarantees that the 27 jobs would not be cut later. “That means 27 jobs saved today could be eliminated tomorrow,” union negotiators put in a letter to members last week.
So, what makes the union bosses think that 101 is the end of the road in staff cuts? Will there be an outcry from readers? I don’t think so, not from the most internet savvy, non-union market in the world, where readership continues in a free fall.
Had the Merc journalists been reporting fairly, without their completely liberal slant, there very well could have been concern shown by readers. But they will never know. It’s too late. Note that the industry experts won’t bring up liberal bias as even a partial reason for the dramatic drop in circulation and advertisers.