At today’s ‘New York Times’ staff walkout

Times union members staged a walkout on Oct. 8. ()
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Unionized New York Times staffers have been locked in a nasty contract battle with company management for the past 18 months now.

How much longer before the two sides reach an agreement?

"There's no reason it can't be settled by Friday," said Walter Baranger, a union member who was fielding questions from the press during an action outside the Times Company's Eigth Avenue headquarters Monday afternoon.

"I don't think it's likely," added Baranger, whose title at the paper is assistant to the editor of The New York Times. "But I'd love that. We'd all love that."

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At issue between the Times Company and the Newspaper Guild are proposed contracts that Guild members say would result in a costly reduction in wages and benefits.

The acrimony, publicized by an agressive ongoing campaign from the Guild, has become a somewhat thorny public relations issue for the Times, which over the past year has also come under scrutiny as a result of the termination and replacement of previous C.E.O. Janet Robinson. (Guild members were none too pleased to learn that her exit package was worth $24 million.)

Monday's walkout came on the heels of a proposed "overall $12,000 annual cut, in real dollars, to our compensation package," according to a letter circulated to Guild members this morning.

A little after 3:30 p.m., hundreds of Times journalists wearing plain white "Believe us" stickers began streaming out of the Times Building's 40th street entrance, where they congregated before walking around the corner en masse. They passed the main entrance that bears the paper's logo before looping around 41st street and returning to work.

Several TV news crews, including NY1, turned out to cover the event, which also provoked a fair amount of curiosity from passersby.

Earlier in the day, the Guild completed a letter to Times executive editor Jill Abramson, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and incoming C.E.O. Mark Thompson. It was co-signed by more than 600 Times employees.

"We implore you: do not permit The New York Times to be steered any closer to this abyss," reads the letter, which was posted online at SaveOurTimes.com. "This penny-wise path will leave us and the company worse off, eroding the quality of our journalism now and in the future."

Contract negotiations are scheduled to resume Tuesday at 10 a.m.

A spokesperson for the Times, asked to comment on today's action, wrote in an email to Capital: "We continue to remain focused on our priority of reaching a fair agreement with the Guild." 

Below, a video of the very civilized walkout, followed by the memo circulated to Union Members earlier today.

 

 

New York Newspaper Guild’s message to Times members:

8 October 2012

Colleagues:

There is no longer any time to waste.

At every bargaining session for the last year and a half, negotiators for The Times have offered us the same poisoned chalice: perpetually shrinking compensation.

Today we begin a series of actions to make sure that the company hears and understands our position. We have more than earned fair wages and benefits. We will accept nothing less.

That message has not yet gotten through, despite huge concessions by our representatives. It is time to raise our voices.

Having been told that The Times urgently needed to freeze pension obligations, the Guild brought to the table an alternative plan that absolves the company of all volatility, and shifts the risks entirely to us.

How did the company respond to this historic change? Its negotiators returned with radical demands to slash our wages and benefits. Their early proposals called for an overall $12,000 annual cut, in real dollars, to our compensation package.

Then it got worse.

In their latest proposal, The Times proposed to extend the term of the contract, piling onadditional years of reduced wages and benefits. That would make the new real cost to each one of us at least $15,000 annually. Other responsible estimates reckon that the losses to us are even higher. No matter how hard you squint at the numbers, they never get better.

As far as the eye can see, your wages and benefits would decline.

By itself, that is a formula for disaster, for us as individuals, and for the ability of The New York Times to attract and keep talented people. But there’s even more. Now they want – or so they say – separate contracts for digital and print journalists, even though there are no longer meaningful distinctions in the work we do. Our journalism is distributed across multiple platforms, print, digital, audio and video. That was and (we think) still is the vision of Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. for The New York Times of the 21st Century. It was a vision embraced without reservation throughout the newsroom. That took plenty of work. But we all saw it as necessity and opportunity.

Any proposal to dismantle the decade of work that has been done to unify the newsroom, securing its place as the world’s premier news organization, could be laughed off as far-fetched legal gimmickry. After all, that would be an act of self-immolation. But even if it’s not worth serious consideration, it has landed just we are heading at full speed toward a crisis over genuine issues like our pay and benefits.

They threaten to declare impasse; they burn up hours on low-farce; then they slap down another version of their repugnant demands to cut our compensation.

It is long past time for the company and its negotiators to pay attention to what matters most of all to us. Together, we can make sure that happens. Join in, as beginning today, we will repeat our message until they hear it:

Nothing less than fair wages and benefits.

Believe us.

Here is the schedule of events for the next two days.

Monday Noon: Deadline to sign the letter to Arthur, Jill and Mark. It’s atsaveourtimes.com. More than 600 people have already signed on. Make sure that people who may have not been paying attention take a look at it.

Monday, 3:35 PM: A group will be leaving the building en masse for a few minutes. Here are the instructions.

* By 3:35 PM, be at the Pulitzer staircase in the center of the newsroom on your floor. NB: This does not mean leave your desk at 3:35. It means be there by 3:35.
* If you work above the fourth floor, come to the fourth floor by 3:35 pm.
* As the people on the fourth floor come down, those on the third floor will join them and walk to the second floor.
* At the second floor, the remaining people will join the crowd from the upper floor, and we will all be guided to the building exits by floor marshals.
* At street level, other colleagues will have a (very short) statement on stickers for us to wear back to our desks.
* We will exit onto 40th Street and walk up Eighth Avenue to the 41st Street lobby entrance, and then return back to our desks.

If you grab a cup of coffee from the third floor wagon, be sure your sticker is in plain sight.

Please note: This is not a job action. We want you to participate if you have flexibility in your work schedule that permits a 10 or 15 minute break at 3:35. Please plan your day accordingly. If you are unable to join the group, colleagues will bring back stickers.

Tuesday morning, 10 AM: Negotiations resume at Proskauer Rose, the company’s law firm. Our negotiating team has kept up a back-breaking schedule, and they deserve our support. Please sign up as an observer.

Don’t sit it out!

And don’t stop until they get the message.

In solidarity,

The Mobilization Committee.