Modesto Bee will cut pay, lay off at least 11 people

March 9, 2009 

The Modesto Bee announced Monday night that it will lay off 11 newsroom employees after a vote by the union representing those workers to accept wage reductions.

The cutbacks in Modesto could have been deeper. Officials were prepared to trim an additional 10 newsroom jobs unless the California Media Workers Guild agreed to pay cuts.

Wages will be reduced by 2 percent to 10 percent for most Bee employees effective April 13, depending upon the individual's salary. Employees who make less than $25,000 a year won't be affected. Bee employees also might be required to take one-week unpaid furloughs later this year.

The union refused to disclose how the voting broke down or what percentage approved the company proposal.

"Members were presented with two very difficult choices and no good options either way," said Marijke Rowland, a staff writer and chairwoman of the guild's Modesto unit, which represents 54 newsroom employees.

"In the end, to have voted down the company's cuts would have represented too great a loss both on a personal, human level and larger community level," Rowland said. "We saved as many jobs as we could in hopes of continuing to put out the quality newspaper that this community deserves."

The Bee plans to announce additional layoffs in other departments this week.

"I appreciate that the Guild members realize the severity of our current financial climate and are willing to do their part to help preserve The Bee in our community," said Eric Johnston, the newspaper's publisher and president.

"These are difficult times for newspapers and we will rely on all Modesto Bee employees to help us meet the needs of our customers as a 21st-century media company."

McClatchy also announced cutbacks at its Merced operations Monday. It will lay off 10 employees, or 10 percent of the combined work force of The Sun-Star, Los Banos Enterprise and Chowchilla News.

Companywide, McClatchy Co. said Monday that it is eliminating 1,600 jobs, or 15 percent of its work force, in the third and most severe cutback to date. Its other newspapers include The Sacramento Bee, The Fresno Bee, the Miami Herald and The Kansas City Star.

The cutbacks go beyond the $100 million to $110 million announced last month by Sacramento-based McClatchy as it tries to cope with an accelerating drop-off in profits and revenue.

McClatchy Chairman and Chief Executive Gary Pruitt will take a 15 percent cut in base salary this year. Other executives are taking 10 percent pay cuts, and there will be "wage reductions across the company for additional savings," the company said.

Specific cutbacks at all McClatchy papers have yet to be announced. However, The Sacramento Bee said Monday that it is eliminating 128 jobs, or 11 percent of its work force, and will impose pay cuts on remaining workers.

McClatchy trimmed about 20 percent of its work force in two cutbacks last summer. They totaled 2,550 jobs.

McClatchy's cutbacks now total 4,150, or about 35 percent.

In 2008, 34 Modesto Bee employees accepted voluntary buyouts in April and September. The company went through three stages of layoffs that shed 60 full-time employees and 127 part-timers.

In September, The Bee shifted printing of the paper to Sacramento. Reporters, editors, advertising staff and others continue to work in Modesto.

McClatchy and other media companies are suffering through a deep downturn in profits and revenue.

McClatchy remains profitable but, with its heavy concentration of newspapers in California and Florida, has been particularly hard hit by the collapse of the real estate market and a crippling slump in ad revenue.

"The effects of the current national economic downturn make it essential that we move even faster to realign our work force and make our operations more efficient," Pruitt said in a news release. "We previously discussed a plan to reach a targeted level of cost savings, but given the worsening economy, we must do more."

McClatchy shares fell 30.5 percent Monday to close at 41 cents.

Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

Bee Business Editor David W. Hill can be reached at dhill@modbee.com or 578-2336.

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