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Reporters' Union Fires Back

Times-Dispatch treated reporters unfairly, union claims.

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The union representing Richmond Times-Dispatch reporters has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the newspaper's management violated its union contract when it laid off 27 reporters in April and May.

Among the newsroom employees let go were four part-time reporters to whom the company refused severance pay. The union's complaint alleges that the existing contract does not differentiate between part- and full-time workers when determining who gets severance pay. A total of 64 Times-Dispatch employees were let go during the two months.

The Richmond Newspaper Professional Association alleges that the daily paper failed to notify union leaders when 22 employees were laid off April 2. The union also says in the complaint that a second round of layoffs in May were in direct retaliation for the union's “refusal to make unconditional contract concessions with no consideration or guarantees in return from the company,” and that “the [May] layoffs … were caused by the RNPA's refusal to make unconditional concessions.”

Frazier Millner, a spokeswoman for the Times-Dispatch,AÿsaysAÿtheAÿcomplaints areAÿwithout merit, and pinned the problem on union membersAÿvoting to raise their own salaries in theAÿ"worst economy since theAÿGreatAÿDepression.Aÿ

"The Richmond Times-Dispatch is deeply disappointed that the union employees in its newsroom have refused to do what every other employee at the newspaper has done this year and that is forego a salary increase," MillnerAÿsays in aAÿstatement.Aÿ"The union members voted an increase for themselves knowing that that if they did not agree to wage concessions there would be additional cost reductions that could include layoffs."

The union's lawyer, Jay Levit, declined to comment. But in a letter to Media General's lawyer provided to Style Weekly by a union member, Levit protests the company's attempts to push laid-off employees to sign a severance agreement that the union believes may surrender the rights of part-time workers.

In addition to securing severance pay for part-timers, “the point is obviously to get those [five] jobs back,” says a union member familiar with the complaint filing, referring to what the union considers five retaliatory layoffs in May.

The charge that some layoffs were done as retribution for the union's failure to agree unconditionally to cost-cutting measures is supported by an e-mail sent to all employees the day after the second round of layoffs by the Times-Dispatch's publisher, Thomas Silvestri, who wrote that the union's failure to approve pay concessions was “the wrong answer” and that “[a]s a result, today we laid off an additional five employees in the Newsroom to achieve our targeted expense reductions.”

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