December 28, 2011 · 1 Comments
By Michael Calderone:
New York Times staffers unhappy with management are letting publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. know it. In recent days, more than 270 current and former Times employees have signed an open letter expressing their “profound dismay” with recent company decisions.
Bill O’Meara, president of the New York Newspaper Guild, said some staffers had considered even “more dramatic” actions.
“There were people who wanted to storm Arthur Sulzberger’s office,” O’Meara told The Huffington Post. “There were people who wanted to stage a walkout.”
For now, Times staffers opted for the letter, which was composed in the newsroom and posted online by the guild at saveourtimes.com. Since last week, hundreds of current staffers — from metro reporters to foreign correspondents, arts critics to web producers — and several Times alumni have continued adding their names.
The letter calls attention to several grievances. Last week, Times brass notified foreign citizens employed in the paper’s overseas bureaus that their pensions would be frozen. In the letter, Times staffers dismayed by this decision point out to Sulzberger that some of these foreign employees, working alongside Times reporters in war zones, have “risked their lives so that we can do our jobs.”
The open letter may have been prompted by this and other recent decisions, but it brought to the surface long-simmering tensions. In the past several years, staffers have faced temporary pay cuts, layoffs, and buyouts. They have worked since March without a new contract. Regarding ongoing negotiations, the letter notes that Sulzberger’s “negotiators have demanded a freeze of our pension plan and an end to our independent health insurance.” O’Meara said staffers did not receive a raise this year.
Such compensation and benefit issues are playing out while the Times faces a problem with retention, as executive editor Jill Abramson acknowledged when she landed the paper’s highest-ranking masthead job last June. The Times, which could once keep high-profile reporters and editors from heading to rival newspapers based on the paper’s cachet alone, has recently faced increased competition for top talent from non-traditional outlets, such as Bloomberg News, ESPN, and The Huffington Post.
The letter also mentions that a member of “senior management” is now leaving with “a very generous severance and retirement package, including full pension benefits.” Indeed, outgoing CEO Janet Robinson – the unnamed executive– will reportedly take home a $15 million exit package, according to Reuters. Times staffers with stock options have seen the share price drop from over $35 at the beginning of Robinson’s tenure in 2003 to less than $8 at opening on Tuesday.
A Times spokeswoman told The Huffington Post that the paper is “not commenting on the negotiations while they are ongoing but we continue to look forward to reaching agreement with the guild.”
O’Meara said he hopes to present the letter and signatures to Times management at the end of the week. The guild also plans to post comments from some of the Times staffers who signed the letter, after he obtains their permission. “Many people wrote powerful, moving comments,” he said. “We want to make sure they’re OK putting it out there.”