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Owner orders furloughs for some CBS6 employees

Owner orders furloughs for some CBS6 employees

Some employees of CBS6 will be forced to take five days off from work, without pay, this spring and

Some employees of CBS6 will be forced to take five days off from work, without pay, this spring and summer.

Other workers — union members — will be asked to accept the unpaid breaks on a voluntary basis.

The furlough policy was announced Friday by Freedom Communications, which owns CBS6, seven other television stations and more than 100 newspapers across the United States. Freedom has not issued an official statement on the furloughs, but company officials say the new order is companywide.

Peter Hutchins, chief steward of Local 21, National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, at CBS6, said station employees learned about the furloughs in e-mails sent Friday morning by California-based Freedom.

“Anybody with a personal services contract or represented by a union, it would be voluntary,” said Hutchins, a station engineer. “Those things have not been discussed yet.”

Employees at CBS6 are represented by two unions. NABET represents about 30 news photographers, engineers and other technicians. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) represents reporters, producers and assignment editors.

Hutchins said it was hard to predict how CBS6 employees would react to furloughs.

“It’s hard to know the frustration,” he said. “You just don’t know, is it enough? It doesn’t guarantee there won’t be any more in the future, furloughs or anything, layoffs, reductions, bankruptcies, who knows?”

Hutchins added that Freedom’s plan would require employees paid by the hour to take one day off at a time, reaching a five-day quota in a three-month period. Salaried personnel would be requested to go on furlough for one full week.

CBS6 representatives for AFTRA referred calls about the furlough policy to the AFTRA offices in New York City, where a call seeking comment was not returned. Robert Furlong, general manager and vice president at CBS6, also did not return a call for comment.

The Orange County Register, Freedom’s flagship newspaper in Santa Ana, Calif., announced layoffs as well as the furlough plan on Friday. The newspaper said the mandatory absences will be taken by all employees, including executives, and scheduled between April 1 and June 30.

Furloughs have become commonplace in newsrooms across the country. Media General and Gannett earlier this year announced their employees would have to take unpaid time off.

Media General, which owns television stations and newspapers chiefly located in the Southeast, has told its employees they must take 10 days off by the end of September. Gannett, which operates 23 television stations and publishes 85 daily newspapers, announced a weeklong furlough program in January.

Bill Lambdin, president of Local 21, said Freedom had not contacted NABET about the furlough plan. But he said the union’s contract does not provide for breaks without pay.

“I would expect our people would not be affected by this and indeed, in the question and answers they distributed with the letter, they acknowledged that people with representation contracts were not affected by the furloughs, although they would be asked to do it voluntarily,” he said.

Lambdin said he was not sure what the union’s response would be.

“I’m hesitant to give you an answer until the request is made and we would consider it,” he said. “But speaking in general terms, I don’t think our people would be interested in doing that. We’ve given up a lot throughout the years at that place already. Our people need a weekly paycheck.”

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