Monday, October 8, 2012

Did You Notice the Walkout at the New York Times Today?

The staff staged a walk out at The New York Times today.

Did you notice that Guild Members walked out at the New York Times this afternoon? You might have missed it if you blinked. It only lasted 10 minutes as 375 staffers walked out the 40th Street Exit, strolled a block, and reentered the 41st Street entrance. They were joined in spirit by 23 staffers in Washington, D.C. who staged their own walkout.

Only those staffers entitled to a 10 or 15 minute break walked. They didn't want to disrupt anything.

The walkout was symbolic and sophisticated. A strike would have been more than symbolic, but the staffers probably can’t risk losing their jobs in this economy.

The Newspaper Guild of New York has engaged in failed negotiations to renew the collective bargaining agreement, which expired 18 months ago. Management is playing hardball.

The average salary for staff editors in New York City is $93,571. The Guild claims management’s offer would effectively equal a $12,000/year cut in “real dollars” in the compensation package. The company wants to freeze pensions while current health care contributions lag industry standards. The Guild in recent negotiations took $3 million off the company’s budget for contributions to the healthcare plan.

As of October 3, 2012 the newspaper added .05% to the three 1% wage increases agreed to.

In classic union language, the staffers say the paper’s demands are  “untenable and destructive.”

You won’t find this question in the fabled New York Times Crossword: “What is the five letter nickname for a union busting newspaper owner?”

The answer is “Pinch,” the nickname for the penny pinching Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., Chairman of the Board of the New York Times.

Pinch in his personal life is extremely liberal. His newspaper has run articles and editorials condemning Governor Scott Walker for his union busting actions in Wisconsin. The New York Times consistently takes the pro-union side in its coverage of labor disputes.

Not in this dispute. Talk is cheap until it hits the bottom line. The Gary Lady has apparently retained lawyers at the law firm that represented the NFL in its lockout of the referees. We know how that one ended.

One union representative contrasted the paper’s treatment of the Times’ unions with its anti-management bias in other labor disputes:

        “We have a problem with that. We’ve realized that what we said in the New
         York Times editorial pages is not what is being followed …. They fly in the face
         of their own editorial board … It’s just money.”

Therein lies the rub. The Gray Lady is a shrinking newspaper, which is looking at red ink rather than black ink. It has relied on asset sales, substantial price increases, and periodic staff cuts to boost its otherwise slim profits. As of March 31, 2012 its daily circulation dropped to 779,731 from 906,100 on December 26, 2010 and the Sunday circulation similarly declined to 1,265,839 from 1,356,800. The Gray Lady is also losing advertising revenues. It has increased paid digital circulation to about 500,000, but these revenues do not offset the other declines.

The New York Times is clearly experiencing the same problems as almost all other major newspapers, a declining subscriber base and Google. In addition though, its strong political bias is hurting circulation. I am probably one of the few conservatives who still subscribes to The Times.

Two questions:

1)   How much of this labor dispute have you seen covered in the Times, whose motto is “All the News That’s Fit to Print?”

                      The Guardian of London has good coverage of the labor dispute.

        2) Wouldn’t it be great if the staffers went out on strike before the November 6 election?

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