New York Times, Union Both Chase Fleeting Dream of No Layoffs

The New York Times' management is full of good liberals, and they really don't like to fire writers. But cutting salaries and folding sections isn't as easy as it looks. Or as effective.

The paper's plan to cut everyone's salaries by 5% still needs the approval of the union (the alternative is dozens more newsroom layoffs, the NYT says). But a Guild memo to its members that just went out says there will be a meeting tomorrow to discuss whether or not to accept it—they'll probably have to, since the alternative is worse, but the union says it's looking into any alternatives that will save the paper the same $4.5 mil the pay cuts will. They're worried about screwing up their employee's health care fund, and worried that these pay cuts won't do the trick anyhow:

It must be stressed that the management proposal comes with no guarantee
that layoffs will be averted. What if we agree to the pay cut and the
company goes ahead and cuts jobs anyway? That would be a double-whammy for
those losing their jobs, since severance pay, which is calculated from
employees' final six months of pay, would be reduced as well.

And they're right! They're a short-term solution, at best. The NYT's newsroom is humongous, with 1,300 staffers, a size that's just unsustainable in this economy. John Koblin reports that yes, the paper's folding the City section and the Friday Escapes section to cut back on freelance budget, but the full-time staffers associated with the sections will be reassigned, not laid off.

In its memo, the Guild also brings up the cautionary tale of the bankrupt Philly papers, where staffers voted to postpone a pay raise only to find out that the asshole bosses had nevertheless given themselves big cash bonuses at the end of the year. Pinch Sulzberger might be too wracked by liberal guilt to do that (Brian Tierney's a Republican, remember), but it doesn't really matter. More layoffs will come, and probably this year. The union and the management are both "IN THE SAME BOAT": a weird, black magic-wracked, shrinking boat, and some people will have to get tossed overboard, lest the cannibalism start. [NYO]