Lee Enterprises, Gannett request furloughs with newspaper revenues plunging amid pandemic

Lee Enterprises and Gannett are asking our members to agree to furloughs during the next three months with those companies suffering big financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lee is asking our members to accept two weeks of unpaid furlough during the next three months. This company is seeking 15 percent savings in labor costs for the next three months. This impacts our members at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Southern Illinoisan.

Gannett is asking our members who make more than $38,000 per year to take three weeks of unpaid leave during the next three months. This impacts our members at the Peoria Journal Star, State Journal-Register, Pekin Daily Times, Rockford Register Star and Springfield News-Leader.

Non-union employees, managers and executives at both companies will also suffer pay reductions during the next three months.

These companies can’t unilaterally impose the furloughs on our members where we have collective bargaining agreements. These companies have to bargain with us.

But given the dire circumstances our industry faces and – as well as the companies’ power to inflict layoffs if needed – we must work with them to find the best resolution for our members. The NewsGuild’s national staff is assisting this effort. We are beginning the bargaining process with both companies and we expect to settle this during the next few days.

Here is a mitigating circumstance: Both Illinois and Missouri offer unemployment benefits to workers on furlough. The federal government will support an additional $600 per week in benefits due to the pandemic, but that will not be implemented until the states get guidance from the feds. So we don’t know if there are limitations or exclusions tied to that extra money. The United Media Guild’s St. Louis-based attorney is monitoring that for us.

NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss and UMG president Jeff Gordon had a constructive discussion with Gannett chairman Mike Reed Tuesday morning about the furloughs, the company’s financial distress and potential federal relief for this industry during the pandemic crisis.

As for day-to-day operations during this crisis, Reed acknowledged that newsrooms can’t get any smaller. He is trying to avoid more layoffs there. He said the company is focused on surviving the second quarter of the calendar year with the hope that rebuilding could begin in the third quarter.

Jon and Jeff had a similar conversation with Lee chairman Mary Junck, CEO Kevin Mowbray and VP Astrid Garcia Wednesday morning. Like Reed, they outlined the immediate economic crisis facing their company and expressed concern about the long-term impact this pandemic could have on advertising revenue in particular.