With readership dropping and advertising revenues declining, the Providence Journal, the state’s largest newspaper, is seeking to shed more workers. The Projo is offering buyouts to veteran employees. If a sufficient number of employees do not take the buyouts, layoffs are likely, says John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild, the union representing many employees.
The buyout deal isn’t a very good one, especially when compared with other buyouts the company offered in 2008. This new buyout round would give an employee 1.25 weeks of base pay for every year of service at the newspaper. But the offer is capped at 10 weeks and there is no post-employment health care provision, which is a serious drawback for older employees who have many years at the ProJo but are not old enough to qualify for Medicare.
Under the newspaper’s union contracts, layoffs are done by seniority, which has sent shivers through the newsroom. “There are some really, really talented people who are in danger of losing their jobs,” says Hill.
Journalists at the ProJo are worried because a similar buyout was offered last December, just before Christmas. At that time, the newspaper’s management set a target of 8 employees taking buyouts. That goal was met and layoffs were averted.
This time may be different, Hill says. Management, Hill says, has not told the Guild what number of employees they want to shed. “They are saying it is substantially more than eight.”
Hill says the hardy journalists who remain at 75 Fountain Street are worried that this round of employee reductions may harm the quality of the newspaper that Rhode Islanders have relied on for news for almost two centuries.
All departments at the newspaper are being targeted, except the pressmen who print the ProJo and other newspapers (New London Day, Fall River Herald News) at the production facility on Kinsley Avenue. Hill says the changing economy for newspapers nationally and Rhode Island’s slow recovery from the recession are major factors in this new round of buyouts.
“Every newspaper in the country is dealing with this as the business tries to reinvent itself,” says Hill.
Hill says management is not seeking to get rid of older workers so the ProJo can hire younger, cheaper workers. “When these people are gone, the positions go with them.”