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After Mass Layoff, Reporter Sticks With His Labor Union

Walter Yost

Walter Yost, 61, was an education reporter for The Sacramento Bee. But a layoff
this March ended his career of over 16 years at the daily paper. Shaken but
standing, Yost is laboring with his former co-workers in the California Media
Workers Newspaper Guild of The Sacramento Bee. He is a non-voting staff person
involved in bargaining talks with the McClatchy Company, his former employer,
for a new labor contract to begin November 2.

“It might be the most important contract for Guild members at The Sacramento
Bee since the strike days back in the 1970’s,” Yost said.

There are 221 Guild-represented members at The Sacramento Bee. The membership
includes employees in editorial and advertising.

“Up until recent years, contract negotiations have not been that sticky
because the business has done well,” Yost said. “It was a matter of
whether you would be getting a three, four or five percent raise. Now it’s what
more are they (management) going to take away from us (workers).”

The McClatchy Company is reeling from losses of ad revenue due to the recession
and flight of paid readership and advertisers to online sources. The digital
trend was underway before the downturn began in December 2007.

It is noteworthy that in mid-2006, the McClatchy Company borrowed $2 billion
to buy the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. (Investment bank Credit-Suisse’s advice
on the purchase of Knight-Ridder cost an estimated $50 million.)

Back in California’s capital city, Yost got his layoff notice in a phone call
from the Bee’s editor, Melanie Sill. “It didn’t totally surprise me,”
he said, noting his job loss was one of 128 Bee-wide. The paper’s newsroom accounted
for 29 job cuts.

“These layoffs followed-up our labor contract negotiations with the McClatchy
Company,” said Yost. “I had sat at the bargaining table as vice chair
of the Newspaper Guild, Local 39521, Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO.
We had been forewarned that there would be serious cutbacks. Frankly, all of
us were startled at how big it was.”

April’s mass layoff at The Sacramento Bee is part of a newsroom trend across
the country. Job cuts in journalism rose at a rate of 22 percent per month in
the one-year period that ended in August, reports Unity: Journalists of Color,
Inc. According to the Unity Web site, it is “a strategic alliance advocating
fair and accurate news coverage about people of color, and aggressively challenging
the industry to staff its organizations at all levels to reflect the nation’s

That downsizing of journalists compares with an economy-wide job-loss rate
of 8 percent a month for the same 12 months. Further, according to the US Labor
Department, layoffs for news analysts, reporters and correspondents doubled
between second-quarter 2008 and second-quarter 2009.

The McClatchy Company froze employees’ wages for the rest of 2009 throughout
its chain of 30 daily newspapers, which include The Sacramento Bee, in August.
Five months earlier, the company temporarily halted its matching contribution
to employees’ 410(k) retirement plans after Guild-represented employees opted
to take a pay-cut formula. The rank-and-file agreed to wage reductions from
3 to 6 percent, pegged to annual earnings, with the higher-paid members taking
the biggest cuts. Earnings of members making $25,000 remained intact.

Pam Dinsmore is a spokeswoman for The Sacramento Bee. She confirmed that the
company’s contract talks with the Bee Guild begin on November 2, but declined
to answer a question about McClatchy’s stance entering the negotiations.

“It will potentially be a three-year contract,” Yost said.

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