More than 100 Tribune Publishing employees told off their bosses in an internal Slack channel yesterday, calling out executives by name for putting shareholders’ interests over workers’ well-being and ability to report and deliver crucial local news to their communities, while pleading with them to consider alternatives to sweeping furloughs and cuts. The top boss responded by running away.
Tribune Publishing, which operates iconic papers like the New York Daily News, Baltimore Sun, and Chicago Tribune as well as lesser-known but vital local papers in eight markets, is backed by the reviled vulture capital firm Alden Global Capital, best known for stripping the Denver Post for parts. Earlier this year, the company offered buyouts to all employees who'd been working there eight years or more. More recently, facing the same pressure every media company is facing, Tribune Publishing has been instituting rolling cuts and furloughs as a result of financial stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic. On April 9, the company announced permanent pay cuts of 2 to 10 percent for all non-union employees making more than $67,000 a year. CEO Terry Jimenez generously said he would forgo his salary—$575,000, a year per an SEC filing—for two weeks.
On April 21, the company announced new three-week furloughs for employees making as little as $40,000 a year. Some of the Tribune newspapers are unionized; as a result, the company must negotiate with the NewsGuild in order to institute the furloughs. The Morning Call, the Hartford Courant, the Tidewater Guild (comprising three Virginia newspapers), the Chesapeake Guild (comprising the Capital Gazette and other suburban newspapers), and company’s shared print group, called Design and Production Studio (DPS) are bargaining together. As they do so, staffers are putting pressure on their overlords by making them look like the assholes they are.
"I can't afford three weeks without pay," wrote one staffer in an internal company-wide Slack channel with more than 2000 people in it.
"My husband was laid off and we have a daughter in college," another wrote.
"Tribune gives $9 million on shareholder dividends, and then tells employees it's critical that they take pay cuts and furloughs that will save them just $556,979," another staffer wrote. "The person who made these decisions at Tribune hasn't mastered basic math."
Staffers named various executives including Jimenez, vice-president of sales Randy Novak, and the newspapers’ editors-in-chiefs in nearly every post. (Jimenez at one point apparently deactivated his Slack account, so that he was no longer able to be tagged in the messages. A Tribune Publishing spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.) Veterans and rookies alike criticized the company for squeezing workers dry while continuing to line shareholders' pockets. (According to the company’s end of year filing published on March 4, “The Company returned $62.9 million to shareholders through a $1.50 per share special dividend in the third quarter and a $0.25 dividend in the fourth quarter.”) Some questioned the company’s resistance to workshare, a government program that helps employers avoid layoffs. Many shared personal testimonials about what it would mean to have their salaries slashed. The following screenshots were obtained and redacted by VICE.
Tribune executives didn't find time to respond to any of this, and a company spokesperson didn't respond to VICE's requests for comment. Tribune reps did, however, according to one source with knowledge of the situation, carve out time to warn employees that if they ever pulled a stunt like this again they could be disciplined for misuse of company property.
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