Union: Projo to order layoffs next month after ‘dismal’ October

The Providence Journal is set to lay off more than a dozen employees during the first week of November, according to the president of the newspaper’s largest union.

Providence Newspaper Guild president John Hill told WPRI.com he was informed late Wednesday by Journal executives that the paper had “a dismal October revenue experience” and they’ve decided the only option is to reduce headcount permanently.

“The advertising market is so uncertain,” Hill said Friday. “They do not have confidence in their ability to predict revenue at this point.”

Journal executives are still seeking $1.2 million in savings, which the Guild estimates will require the elimination of roughly 16 of its members’ jobs. The terms of its contract gives the publisher “complete discretion” over the size of the paper’s staff, he said.

Journal management had been discussing the possibility of accepting union concessions to avoid the layoffs, but Hill said those talks ended after the October revenue picture became clear: “They decided they simply had to have flexibility going into 2013, and one of the things we were trying to limit was that flexibility, quite frankly, as far as the size of the staff.”

Asked to describe Journal employees’ reactions, Hill said: “Disappointed. We thought we had some shot here.”

Layoffs will be determined by seniority within job classifications and employees will once again have the option of taking a buyout, Hill said. Executives will decide how many employees they want to cut in different positions and then eliminate the newest hires first in each position, he said. More senior employees can “bump” newer ones out of a lower-ranking job if they can demonstrate they have the skills to do that job instead, he said.

“You might have somebody 67 and people say, why won’t he go?” Hill said. “Well, maybe he’s got a spouse who’s 63 and isn’t eligible for Medicare yet – that might be why he’s staying. There could be any number of personal life reasons that are very justifiable as to why.”

The Journal’s work force has shrunk by a third to an estimated 468 employees since 2008. The Guild’s membership has fallen from a high of about 500 to roughly 220, according to Hill.

The Journal’s total revenue rose to $46.7 million during the first six months of 2012, an increase of 1.3% compared with the first half of 2011, its Dallas-based parent company A.H. Belo reported in August. The paper’s advertising revenue plunged 61% from 2005 to 2011.

The Journal’s weekday print circulation fell to 85,496 copies a day in the six months ended March 31, down 7% from a year earlier, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The paper put up a paywall in February after limiting its HTML site to short news briefs and sold 273 electronic-edition subscriptions as of March.

• Related: Projo trying to sell Providence HQ for $10M, move to top floors (Oct. 9)

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