The last signficant layoffs at the Times Free Press came in 2009 during a peak in the Great Recession when newspapers across the country were shedding staffers by the thousands. That year, according the newspaperlayoffs.com, a well-known industry website known as Paper Cuts that documents layoffs and buyouts at newspapers around the county, almost 15,000 newsroom staffers lost their jobs, including 15 TFP newsroom staffers. Since then, layoffs have dropped off signficantly, but continue while dozens of papers have gone out of business. So rumor of layoffs at Our Daily gave us pause.
Fears of layoffs at the paper came to our attention last week when David Morton of Chattaratti.com Tweeted that TFP-ers were being forced to sign an arbitration agreement by 2012 that would relinquish their ability to sue the paper or its parent company, Little Rock, Ark.-based WEHCO Media, Inc.
Morton’s Twitter feed, twitter.com/itypewords, went on to note that his sources at the paper say the agreement, handed down by the paper’s human resources department in December, is likely tied to the age-discrimination lawsuit filed in May by former TFP Vice President of Operations Frank Anthony, who claims TFP President Jason Taylor fired him because he was, well, too old. Anthony is 64. Taylor is 36.
DizzyTown called Harry Burnette, the lawyer whose firm filed the lawsuit, which sought unspecified damages and claims Taylor is systematically replacing older managers with younger staffers, but did not hear back from him before press time.
Morton’s Tweet said his sources at the paper all pointed toward the lawsuit as the catalyst for the new agreement, which is reportedly “optional.” The rub? Staffers who don’t sign will be terminated or ask to resign, according to Morton’s Tweet.
In so-called “right-to-work” states such as Tennessee, where employees lack the backing and support of unions, management has the upper hand with these sort of heavy-handed tactics. Faced with losing one’s job in an embattled economy or signing away one’s legal rights, most TFP-ers are presumably, if reluctantly, signing off on the agreement.
Fears of coming layoffs is a natural reaction, too, since laying this groundwork would free the publishers from battling costly lawsuits if they did begin trimming staff who might happen to be on the north side of their 40s or 50s.
None of this, of course, bodes well for the newspaper industry as a whole and says much about how low publishers feel they can go in their efforts to reverse the devastating loses print has suffered. Like many dailies in mid-sized cities, the TFP is already thin and understaffed. More cuts mean an increased reliance on wire copy to fill its pages and a push to produce advertorial to entice advertisers to part with their money in what many see as a dying medium.
DizzyTown takes every opportunity to poke fun at the TFP—indeed, we’d have much less to gleefully parody were the paper not around—but we genuinely feel for the paper’s staff and hope these fears are unfounded.
Even as layoffs have dropped off, no paper is immune to cuts as the economy continues to struggle, least of all alternative newsweeklies. The Pulse lost its longtime editor, Janis Hashe, recently due to budget woes and our already small staff has dropped to unprecedented levels. Really—count the typos!
On second thought, no, don’t. We’re depressed enough.
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