Living with the realities of corporate ownership at The Buffalo News

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of the Frontier Reporter.

When Lee Enterprises purchased us two years ago, it was only a matter of time before the corporation began trying to wring cost savings out of The Buffalo News by consolidating and centralizing services.

We’ve seen that play out in recent weeks as the company has informed us of its intention to outsource our customer service phone representatives in Inside Circulation, and last month proposed outsourcing our Prepress Guild members on the second floor.

It’s also played out in the corporate demand that all papers in the Lee chain downsize or layoff employees. Many other Lee newspapers have had some managers and staff laid off or bought out. Most recently, we have heard the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is offering buyouts for up to four reporters and/or newsroom artists who are at least 50 years old and have at least 15 years of service. The offer is contractual severance – in their case, one week for every year of service up to a maximum of 26 weeks.

In our own newsroom, management has decided to meet the demands of its parent company by offering newsroom photographers a buyout and permanently reducing the photography staff by two. The News would also eliminate a Features position, transferring that employee to an open reporting title, which will result in the demise of the Gusto calendar.

There is no substitute for losing customer service, Prepress staffers and newsroom photographers whose dedication, work ethic and decades of experience have made our paper the strong regional daily that it remains today. When they go, we’ll all feel the loss.

But it’s when times like these come upon us that it’s easiest to see the difference being part of strong union makes. Last year, we negotiated enhanced severance that will give our customer service representatives up to one year’s worth of pay and health care benefits.

In addition, the News’ buyout terms for our News photographers of 52 weeks of pay exists because of our strong contractual severance language, which makes it more difficult for the company to get rid of loyal and long-serving employees on the cheap.

That compares with employees in other places that are being shown the door with only a few weeks of severance pay after a long and loyal tenure.

The Guild also ensures that members who may leave us do so armed with information to plan their future. We are currently working with Level Financial Services to provide financial planning advance to any Guild member contemplating a buyout or who is facing the outsourcing of their jobs.

Finally, the company is aware that the Guild will aggressively and publicly denounce and fight any efforts to lay off our employees. We will not quietly allow the company to get rid of our members without ensuring that they are treated with respect and leave on terms that will safeguard their financial futures.

If we were a weaker union, or worse, no union at all, we wouldn’t have these protections. A look around the industry would tell you that. The Guild ensures we remain a place that is still worth coming to build a career.

We protect our members and protect the integrity of The Buffalo News. That mission isn’t changing no matter who owns us.

Please stay informed on Guild news and information by checking out the Guild’s quarterly publication, the Frontier Reporter. Check your email and the Guild bulletin boards for copies. The latest edition is here.