The Hearst Corporation has placed more than a dozen Times Union employees on paid leave for most of the summer in a move the Albany Newspaper Guild is describing as illegal layoffs.
Company officials notified 13 employees — including seven in the newsroom — of the decision Monday night and Tuesday morning. Union President Tim O’Brien said the affected workers were told they were being placed on a 45-day paid leave and likely to be terminated afterward, unless an agreement is struck between the union and the company.
But Managing Editor Rex Smith apparently told staffers the layoffs are imminent when he discussed the company’s move Tuesday. O’Brien lauded Smith for being forthright about the cuts and offered a scathing criticism of the company’s actions in the midst of the union trying to negotiate a layoff agreement.
“The company’s actions today are illegal,” he said. “We are in the midst of negotiating criteria for layoffs.”
O’Brien said the union intends to file a grievance against the company and an unfair labor practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board.
O’Brien said the company targeted a number of senior workers for the leave and ignored union pleas to respect seniority.
Times Union Publisher George Hearst III did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
The company offered a voluntary buyout to employees last year with the hope of eliminating up to 75 jobs. But only 28 workers accepted, prompting Hearst to contemplate up to 45 additional cuts.
In late June, the union rejected a three-year contract proposal, 35-125. Guild members balked at the company’s proposal, which would have allowed the newspaper to outsource jobs and lay off workers without respect to seniority.
The Guild and Hearst then began discussing the criteria that would be used to lay off workers and the list of employees who would be targeted. Guild members expected the meeting would touch off a 45-day period under the company’s language to negotiate layoffs.
The Guild plans to meet with the company this morning. O’Brien said he was relieved the company didn’t cut as many jobs as had originally been forecast, but was angered the company is apparently going ahead with layoffs.
“We’ve never said that they can’t lay people off, but you have to do it properly and according to the law,” he said. “They have not.”