Furloughs at local newspaper

The spreading economic woes in the newspaper industry have reached a new level at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Members of the paper’s Newspaper Guild will vote tomorrow on whether to accept one-week unpaid furloughs

The paper’s corporate parent, Media News, has ordered the furloughs for non-union employees and management at its newspapers, and is asking its unions to accept them as well.

According to a memo to Guild members, the union asked the newspaper for assurances the furloughs “will prevent or even delay layoffs,” but the request was denied.

At other Media News newspapers, the furloughs are to be completed by March 30, but the union asked for — and received — a delay for their completion until the end of April.

The company says it’s following the lead of Gannett, the giant media company that is forcing thousands of its employees to take the one-week furlough.

Update 4:46 p.m. – Here’s how the furlough works:

1. This is a one-time agreement that is intended to apply only to this furlough (Feb. 9, 2009-April 30, 2009).

2. Seventy (70) percent of the furloughs in the Guild bargaining unit will be accomplished by March 31, 2009.

3. Employees will sign up for five (5) furlough days on or about February 9, 2009.

4. The furlough is five days for full-time employees. Part-time employees are required to take a proportional furlough (for example, an employee who works four days per week is required to take four days). Furloughs can be taken in increments of one day, or in consecutive days.

5. All furloughs shall be unpaid. Employees may not use paid vacation or sick leave during furloughs.

6. Operational considerations will be taken into account when approving furlough days/schedules. Employees and their managers should work together in scheduling furlough days. In the event a plan cannot be agreed upon, the employee, a Guild representative, a representative of Human Resources and the manager will immediately meet to develop a schedule for the employee. Any scheduling conflicts between employees in selecting furloughs will be determined by seniority.

7. Employees can, with management approval, take additional unpaid time and donate time to a coworker, assuming that the employees’ pay is comparable and it does not create an operational hardship. Management approval for such donations will not be unreasonably withheld.

8. Employees can convert previously scheduled vacation time to furlough time.

9. Employees on furlough will continue to accrue vacation and sick leave and will continue to be eligible for all healthcare and related benefits.

10. During their furlough, employees shall not perform any work on behalf of the Company. Furloughed employees shall leave an outgoing message on their voicemail stating they are not at work, their return date, and that any matters needing immediate attention should be forwarded to an active employee to be named by their manager. The same procedure shall be followed for email.

11. Employees who are salaried exempt must take their five (5) days in one week.

12. Certain departments, at the discretion of the Company, may be exempted from the furlough program due to operational considerations. No individual exemptions within departments will be made.

13. Any covered employee who is laid-off from employment during the term of the furlough shall be paid for any and all unpaid furlough days taken on behalf of him/herself during the furlough period. Unpaid days taken on behalf of another employee (see item # 7 above) shall not be converted to paid days as would otherwise be provided by this provision.

14. If called to work while taking a scheduled furlough day the employee will be paid a full day for working and will not be required to reschedule an additional furlough day.

15. Freelancers will not be used to displace bargaining unit work while bargaining unit members are on furlough.

Update 4:48 p.m. David Brauer has some union reaction and background.

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