Arbitrator upholds NYT newsroom staffers’ seniority rights

Press release

December 14, 2009

Guild upheld on seniority rights in ruling on Newsroom layoffs

An arbitrator on Monday upheld Times’ Newroom employees’ seniority rights, added an annual week of severance pay for employees properly laid off in inverse order of seniority and sped up the challenge process for those laid off out of seniority in a ruling that resolved in the Guild’s favor most aspects of a multi-faceted dispute over job security.

The binding decision by Arbitrator Martin Scheinman, issued a day before Times management targets approximately 26 Newsroom employees for layoff, provides fresh clarity to a process that had been clouded by disputes since last year’s Newsroom layoffs.

After accepting the buyout applications of 74 News-side employees (60 Guild and 14 non-Guild) last week, Times management is expected on Tuesday to target additional Newsroom employees for involuntary layoffs to reach its goal of 100 job cuts. The numbers might change if people change their minds and revoke their buyout application.

The arbitrator’s ruling sustained the Guild’s view that seniority used to determine Newsroom employees’ vulnerability to layoffs must be measured by their service in the entire News Department. In last year’s round of job cuts, management had taken the position that seniority gets reset to zero each time an employee moves to a new desk.

Under the ruling, employees laid off in inverse order of seniority will receive three weeks per year of severance pay, instead of two weeks, the same rate as employees who are involuntarily laid off out of order, and will have to sign a release, as they currently do. Employees with the least amount of seniority are generally most vulnerable to layoffs, but management can pass over more senior employees if it determines that a less senior employee’s qualifications are “superior.”

Employees laid off out of seniority order who do not challenge their dismissals may receive their severance payments in a lump sum or in monthly installments, in exchange for signing a separation agreement and general release, Scheinman ruled.

Those who challenge their out-of-seniority layoffs will have their cases decided by Scheinman within 30 days of the Guild’s demand for a hearing, during which time they will receive no severance pay. If they prevail, they will be reinstated. If not, they may receive their severance pay only in monthly installments, in exchange for signing a separation agreement and general release.

The issue of whether the release negated rehire rights had been in dispute, and has now been resolved by the arbitrator in the following manner.

If The Times hires more than two employees in a classification from which Newsroom employees were laid off within the past 12 months, the Guild may challenge the layoff “as having been not in good faith, not bona fide, or a subterfuge,” Scheinman said.

“In the arbitration, the Guild would have to demonstrate hiring individuals rather than rehiring employees involuntarily terminated within the preceding 12 months was unreasonable,” he said. “The Times would have the responsibility to explain why it did not instead rehire employees involuntarily terminated within the preceding 12 months.”

If the Guild prevails in such a challenge, Scheinman said The Times would have to offer to rehire involuntarily a laid-off employee, even if they signed a general release.

“We are pleased that the arbitrator has upheld the most important aspects of our position,” said New York Guild president Bill O’Meara. “We also now have clarity on how layoffs are to be conducted and will have a swifter way of resolving future layoff disputes, which is of great benefit to Guild members,” he added.

Guild offers plan to avert loss of News Service jobs Responding to a management proposal to subcontract the News Service, the Guild last week offered a comprehensive package of cost savings aimed at keeping the operation and its 28 Guild-represented jobs in New York. Talks are continuing.

As reported, Times management notified the Guild a few weeks ago that it intends to subcontract the News Service to a Times Company-owned entity in Gainesville, Florida.

Workers there would be hired at about half the current rate of pay in effect here. That notification triggered a 60-day period during which the Guild can attempt to convince management not to go forward with its plans. The Guild proposal would cut costs by about 31 percent, saving the company nearly $900,000 a year.

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