Star union OKs furlough to avoid more layoffs-WEB ONLY

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The union representing about 200 employees at the Indianapolis Star voted overwhelmingly this weekend to accept a one-week furlough for each of its members in hopes of avoiding further layoffs.

Officials at Star parent Gannett Co. Inc. announced last week that all of its employees would be required to take one week off without pay during the first quarter of this year as a cost-saving measure. Indianapolis Newspaper Guild members were told if they did not agree to take the furlough, layoffs would begin immediately.

The furlough program follows two recent rounds of layoffs at the Star, including 62 last month before a reorganization of the newspaper which saw the demise of the paper’s stand-alone business section and a reduction in arts and entertainment coverage.

“This was a choice between two really bad options,” said Vic Ryckaert, guild vice president. “The members believe it is better to have everybody hurt some than to have some lose their jobs.”

Ryckaert pointed out that the Star remains profitable, adding that union members think the paper “could have weathered the storm without these edicts.”

Gannett CEO Craig Dubow outlined the furlough plan in a memo Jan. 14, and gave union members until 10 a.m. today to notify management of their decision. The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild voted 81-9 to accept the furloughs. While Dubow said in a statement that the furlough program would lessen the chance of future layoffs at Virginia-based Gannett, he and other company higher-ups stopped short of making promises.

“We are doing this because it is the fairest way to go,” said Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell, adding that 12 percent of the company’s 31,000 employees nationwide are represented by a union. Gannett owns 85 daily newspapers, including the Star, and 23 TV stations.

Ryckaert called the morale at the Star “bleak” in the wake of the decision.

“We would have loved to have some assurances that there wouldn’t be any layoffs, but management wouldn’t give us that,” he said. “Everyone here is worried about the economy, and scared they won’t have a job.”

Making matters worse, The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild is in the midst of contract negotiations with Gannett. “It’s a tough time to be doing that,” Ryckaert said.

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