San Francisco Chronicle Still Desperate, Unions in Talks With Hearst

| Wed Feb. 25, 2009 6:15 PM PST
Representatives from the San Francisco Chronicle's employees unions met with Hearst officials to discuss possible layoffs and wage cuts today, confirms Chronicle spokesman Michael Keith. The layoffs, as I blogged earlier, are meant to offset the $50 million loss the Chronicle suffered last year. Hearst, which owns the paper, has threatened to try to sell it in the case that costs cannot be cut significantly; or close it altogether. No word yet on whether the unions have reached a deal with Hearst. "Today's meeting was just the initial discussion," says Keith. "We're not really expecting anything to come from that."

Hearst hasn't laid out any specific timeline or number of positions to be cut, but one of the unions reports that as of today, at least 50 jobs will be axed. The union also said in a statement on its site that it's discussing removing some jobs from union protection and outsourcing certain positions, among other options. Keith expects the next move is for the two employees unions to meet and discuss options jointly. 

"It's really a sign of market failure to imagine a major city like San Francisco without a daily paper," says one Chronicle staffer. The staffer is anxious about the impending layoffs, or worse: if the Chronicle closes, 1,500 people will be jobless.

The Chron need only peer north for sorry company. Hearst also owns the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which it plans to close or produce exclusively online if a buyer cannot be found by the end of March. And even if staff cuts could make up the $50 million, Hearst would still be stuck without a revenue stream. Currently, it costs $10 to produce and deliver a $2 Sunday Chronicle: yes, that's right, ten dollars. Layoffs will barely alleviate that burden, and apparently the paper is hemorrhaging money, losing $1 million a week. It'd take a lot of Extra, Extra to pull out of that hole.

Spokesman Keith says not to expect any updates to the situation soon, but if any insiders with a scoop, e-mail me at jphillips at motherjones dot com, or catch me up in the comments. Some have theorized that Hearst's threat to close the Chronicle "within weeks" is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate the unions or accomplish other nefarious corporate ends. To which I can only say, nefarious? Hearst? Definitely plausible. Other theories?
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