Chronicle union votes yes to concessions

March 15, 2009 4:06:33 PM PDT
It is a deal that could save the San Francisco Chronicle. On Saturday members of the paper's largest union voted for major concessions including dozens of layoffs.

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It was a very emotional day for members of the Media Workers Guild. They say they gave up a lot in order to save the Chronicle.

It was a day of serious concessions for those who are simply trying to keep their jobs. The union that represents nearly 500 Chronicle employees asked members to vote to ratify their current contract. The measure passed by a 10-to-1 margin.

"It puts us in a far weaker position. You don't have a lot of leverage when you're dealing with someone that's losing a lot of money," explained Michael Cabanatuan, President of the California Media Workers Guild.

Union members agreed to extend their work day by a half hour without pay, give up one week of vacation and limit sick days. Those who will be laid off will get a two week per year worked severance package with benefits. And, seniority will not be a consideration when layoff notices go out.

That is a concession many say hurts the most.

"It doesn't seem to count for anything," said Michael Crady who works in computer operations.

None of it's fair. None of it's fair. But, we're caught between a rock and a hard place," said Steve Schurr, an employee in the circulation department.

"My first years there were cutbacks and I thought, well I've been here a long time. I'll be in the clear. But no, it comes to a popularity contest," said copy editor Mark Hedin.

The Chronicle lost $50 million last year and the union says the paper will eliminate 150 Media Workers Guild positions.

"I just hope everyone doesn't lose their job. Me too. I'm worried about myself," said Janine Laiwa who works in single copy sales.

I dressed in black because I went to a funeral, a funeral of my job. And, I love the Chronicle so much," said Emogene Thomas sobbingly.

It is a sentiment that binds so many of these Chronicle employees. That is why making this decision, to essentially open the door to random layoffs, was far from easy.

"It's going to be sad, I know, but we can move forward. We are the Chronicle," Cabanatuan said Saturday.

Chronicle representatives did not want to make a comment to ABC7 Saturday but said they will make one via an article at SFGate.com.

The Chronicle's publisher released a statement Saturday evening saying, "I appreciate the willingness of our employees to work with us to make the difficult decisions that need to be made during these difficult times."

Many workers fear an estimated 500 out of the Chronicle's 1500 employees will be laid off.

In the meantime, talks with the Teamsters Union will now begin, so those members can figure out how all this will impact them.

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