Members of Newsday’s largest union, the 1,100-strong Graphic Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 406, are being asked to tighten their belts once again.
Union leaders have emerged recently from negotiations with Cablevision Systems Corp.-owned Newsday and presented its membership with a new proposed contract, the terms of which they themselves describe as “horrible and unprecedented.” The details, contained, along with the tentative agreement, in a memo sent from union officer Zachary Dowdy to the paper’s roughly 240-member editorial unit—leaked earlier this week and posted on media commentary website PoynterOnline—includes, among other demands: 10-percent pay cuts for all employees [15 percent for drivers], longer work weeks exclusive of lunch periods, and elimination of one week of vacation.
“We all know that our industry is in terrible shape, as are the national and world economies,” writes Dowdy. “After heated arguments among ourselves about whether to walk away from the table in protest to the company’s terms, we felt it would be best to allow the membership to decide whether the terms proposed are conditions that members could live with given the current crisis.”
Local 406 President Michael O’Connor tells the Press that members are outraged over the proposed contract, but that its terms were the best union leaders could extract. Members are especially infuriated that the tough demands come as the paper’s parent company is reaping profits, he adds.
“What a lot of people are really outraged about is, when you hear about the profits that Cablevision, our parent company, are making, and bonuses for [CEO James] Dolan and extra salaries and then now they’re asking for this,” O’Connor explains. “But you got to separate it. We don’t work for Cablevision, we work for Newsday. And they’re an operation that is trying to become profitable. Which at this time, they’re not.”
Dowdy writes that Newsday lost at least $7 million in 2009 and “weak advertising revenue projections, by independent analysts” foretell of double-digit 2010 and 2011 advertising revenue losses.
The current contracts of the union’s six bargaining units expire at various times, says O’Connor, with editorial’s ending April 1. He adds Newsday was originally seeking a 15-percent wage cut across the board. The new contract was scheduled to be voted on Jan. 10, but has been postponed.
And one current longtime employee in Newsday’s editorial department says that whenever it does go to a vote, “It doesn’t stand a prayer of getting passed,” stressing that when all the contract’s terms are factored in, employees face closer to a 23-percent cut in earnings.
“It’s insane,” says the employee. “The rich get richer at the expense of the people who make them rich.”
Newsday spokeswoman Deidra Parrish Williams provided the following statement:
“Newsday is not immune to the economic challenges facing the newspaper industry and we have been working closely with our union partners to find solutions to issues impacting our business in order to maintain Newsday as a strong and viable company for the long-term. We are pleased that we were able to reach an agreement with the union and hope that it will be ratified.”
Long Island’s lone daily has had a rough decade, to say the least.
In February 2004, its then-parent Tribune Co., Newsday, and several of its top executives became embroiled in a $600 million federal class-action lawsuit alleging the paper was fudging its circulation figures through a host of nefarious schemes. The paper originally denied the claims, but following investigations by the Press and a barrage of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies—including the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the industry’s watchdog—copped to faking its circ by nearly 100,000 copies on weekdays and Sundays. Its publisher and top editor stepped down amid the scandal. Tribune set aside $90 million to reimburse fleeced advertisers. They also slashed 150 jobs.
Newsday was bought by Cablevision for $650 million in 2008 from billionaire Sam Zell, Tribune’s current owner. Since then, the paper has weathered several rounds of layoffs and implemented a number of belt-tightening initiatives. As recently as last week, says one Newsday insider, the paper had moved the printing of its TV supplement and Sunday comics in-house, which in turn will save them millions.