September 28, 2009

Oregonian employees weighing new buyout offer

A week after employees at The Oregonian said farewell to its publisher, many employees received a buyout offer and warning of layoffs.

A story with a byline of Peter Bhatia, executive editor, was posted on early Friday afternoon, with a copy of the  letter and the buyout agreement sent to employees posted on Oregon Media Central.

The buyout, less generous then previous offers, was offered to all news employees and some employees in the advertising and circulation departments. The offer gives employees two weeks of pay for each year of service, plus health care for an equivalent period, capped at six months. Employees also will get compensation for unused sick and vacation time. In August 2008, about 100 employees took a buyout that offered up to two years of pay and health benefits.

Among the position eligible are sales assistants, prepress systems operators, dispatch messengers, and imaging specialists in the advertising department and circulation zone managers, The positions and age of the person now in the positions are listed in the buyout document,   but the company can reject the agreements if too many accept by the Nov. 9 deadline. Interim publisher Patrick Stickel also warned that if enough people do not accept, the likelihood of layoffs increases when a longtime company pledge of no layoff due to technology or a bad economy ends Feb. 5, 2010.

(I can't figure out if The Oregonian employee who wanted a buyout in 2008 and sued is eligible. Can you?)

Any employee who the company agrees can go will be gone by Dec. 26, 2009, although the last date of employment is up to The Oregonian. Most people expect they would be asked to stay through mid-December as the weeks leading up to Christmas are among the busiest for most newspaper advertisers.

Those offered the chance to take a buyout won't be replaced directly. Instead, Stickel said the work will be reassigned or done in a way that will save the company money

The company froze its defined-benefit pensions in May and reduced most Oregonian employees' pay up to 10 percent this year. Also, the company began using unpaid furloughs - now 10 days - as a way of controlling expenses. Editor Sandy Rowe's pay was cut 15 percent, the same cut that the two Stickels, Fred and Patrick, said they were taking.

The Oregonian is part of Advance Publications, owned by the Newhouse family.

I've written about The Oregonian before.


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