May 2003 Guild Memo on Layoffs

Here's a May 2003 memo from the Wire Service Guild about more layoffs at UPI:

May 14, 2003

United Press International announced today that it plans to dismiss between 15 and 20 news employees -- about half of the Guild's bargaining unit -- as part of a plan to "reposition UPI in the marketplace."

Company representatives, who unveiled their layoff plans during a previously scheduled contract bargaining session with the News Media Guild, said employees designated for termination will be notified Friday. The dismissals, said the company, will be effective June 13.

Guild negotiators immediately tabled all issues related to contract bargaining, including UPI's first comprehensive economic proposal delivered minutes after the layoff announcement. Instead, the Guild said the parties need to devote their full attention to dealing with the critical issue of job elimination

Company representatives said UPI will move from a breaking news operation to one that "comments, interprets and analyzes by providing in-depth coverage."

However, the company said breaking news will be covered on a substantially reduced basis by stringers and a new category of reporters who, according to management's initial proposal, would be paid anywhere from $288.46 to $365.38 a week.

That means, said the company, it needs to get rid of those employees who would either be unqualified or over-qualified to work on the "new product."

Top management has reviewed the skills of all employees in order to determine who best fits the new UPI model and who does not, company negotiators told the Guild. They called it a "subjective process."

Guild representatives countered by saying that part of the current terms of employment that UPI must follow is the standard for a force reduction that requires management to "give major consideration to length of service, provided the senior employee is competent to perform the available work."

That provision is in the expired Guild contract, a document that has provided the framework for the existing terms and conditions of employment at UPI.

Meanwhile, the company presented a proposal to pay less severance to laid off employees than currently required. The old contract, and the current term of employment, calls for one week's pay for every year of service, up to a maximum of 15 weeks' pay. UPI proposed the same formula, with a cap of 12 weeks. The proposal would also require dismissed employees to sign a release and waiver, promising not to take legal action against the company.

The Guild insisted on coming up with a special package that addresses only the immediate reduction in force. The committee said it begins with the premise that employees are entitled to the current severance rate of one week's pay per year up to 15 weeks without a waiver. The Guild then proposed that discharged employees who sign an agreement not to sue UPI be given three weeks pay for each year of service, with no cap and 18 months of continued health insurance or the cash equivalent at the employee's option. The proposal also called for a minimum of 10 week's severance.

The Guild also proposed that employees designated for layoff be allowed to remain on the payroll until October 1 or until they found a new job, whichever happens first, and that they be allowed to use company time and equipment in their job search. The proposal called for the hiring of a special firm to assist discharged workers in finding new employment.

Management said it will respond to that proposal when the two sides meet again on Thursday, May 22.