Lee Enterprises offers no-layoff protection during furlough period

The United Media Guild reached a tentative agreement with Lee Enterprises on the parameters of the looming furlough at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This will be subject to membership approval — and we’ll have more about that process soon.

The UMG recognizes Lee’s need for operational cost savings in the face of pandemic-driven revenue decline. The UMG appeciates Lee’s desire to avoid layoffs and keep the newsroom and advertising department staffing levels stable during this crisis.

So this is the agreement we reached:

The Employer and the Guild agree that each full-time Guild member will take two (2) weeks of unpaid furlough beginning no earlier than April 12, 2020, and completed no later than June 27, 2020. All other benefits, including 401-k contributions and healthcare benefits will continue during the furlough, and each Guild member will remain responsible for the full amount of the healthcare cost share stated in the contract. Any voluntary 401-k contributions will be based on actual wages earned.

The company agrees to the following:

  • The Company will not contest any valid application for unemployment benefits and will conduct the furloughs in such a way as to maximize the opportunity for the employee to receive unemployment benefits.
  • There will be no interruption in service credits associated with the furlough.
  • Employees may not use both weeks of the same pay period for furloughs.
  • Scheduling of the furloughs will follow Article IX (Vacations) of the current collective bargaining agreement. Employees who have vacation time already scheduled during the furlough period will be allowed to substitute that vacation week with a furlough week — provided that the employee notifies their vacation supervisor of that intent, and then at the same time requests another vacation week outside of the furlough period and before Dec. 31, 2020. Those requests also will use Article IX (Vacations) as a guide.
  • Company agrees that there will be no discipline issued to advertising employees related to performance to goal or performance to prior year through 6/27/2020.
  • The Company agrees that there will be no layoffs between April 12, 2020 and June 27, 2020.

The Guild understands that the Employer can make no guarantee of payment of unemployment to furloughed employees.

The Guild agrees that in the event of the unavailability of Guild members due to unforeseen circumstances, the Company has the right to reschedule or rescind future scheduled furloughs.

This agreement shall have no precedential effect in any future action, grievance, arbitration, or other proceeding of any kind, nor shall it be cited or referred to in any such proceeding by any of the parties hereto, except with respect to a proceeding to enforce its terms.

Here are a few reminders from the UMG:

  • If we don’t agree with this, layoffs would occur.
  • It’s best to take your furlough one week at a time, not one day at a time, so that you can collect unemployment benefits.
  • The company can’t ensure that you will collect unemployment benefits because it has no control over the process, other than its agreement not to contest it.
  • If you are on vacation this week, you can’t designate it as a furlough week instead. Furloughs do not start until next week, assuming we agree to this.
  • You can’t take both furlough weeks in the same period because the company has to take its deductions (health insurance premiums, so forth) from your pay. So you have to have pay in each period.
  • If you would rather keep working and take a 15 perecent wage reduction for three months instead, that’s an option.