Pruitt plays, workers pay

Gary Pruitt.

Gary Pruitt.

It’s been a rough week over at 21st and Q streets. Union members at The Sacramento Bee voted Friday to accept a package of layoffs and pay cuts. Not that they had much choice.

The deal with the Bee’s 268 union members (most of the newsroom and advertising departments) called for 34 layoffs, eight in advertising and 26 in the newsroom. Along with the layoffs, most Bee workers will be getting a 6 percent pay cut.

The agreement did nothing to protect the remaining 800 or so Bee employees who don’t belong to the union. That group is also taking layoffs and pay cuts. Twenty-three positions in production were cut, and 62 jobs in “audience development,” what used to be called circulation, were also lost.

In all, 128 jobs–or 11 percent of the Bee workforce–were eliminated on Monday. That’s part of 1,600 jobs that the Bee’s parent company, The McClatchy Co., is cutting across the country. McClatchy is losing 15 percent of its workforce this go-round.

The layoffs include veteran reporters that you have been reading for years. Many more of the downsized worked behind the scenes as editors, assistants and in important positions producing and distributing the paper every day.

Here are some of the names you might recognize.

Metro reporters Ramon Coronado, Jennifer Morita, Melissa Nix and Robert Faturechi were all among the layoffs. Walt Yost, a Bee union rep and longtime columnist for the Neighbors section (before they folded up a couple years back), was dismissed. Yost had been there since 1986.

Sportswriters Martin McNeal and Scott Howard-Cooper also were let go. And particularly tough for us to hear, the Bee cut music and pop-culture writer and SN&R alumna Rachel Leibrock, who joined the Bee in 2000. All of the reporters were given notice, so you can expect to see many of those bylines for the next several days. “I plan to do my job well for the remaining three weeks and will then focus on moving forward,” Leibrock told SN&R.

The list could have been longer. Had union members voted no, the Bee was threatening to cut 53 jobs, 16 in advertising and 37 in the newsroom. And nobody is saying those remaining jobs are safe. According to union negotiators, it was a “take it or leave it” proposition, and Bee employees decided to take it. California Media Workers Guild rep and Bee reporter Ed Fletcher reported that the negotiations were extremely frustrating and one-sided.

He told SN&R, “On one hand, our members are committed to saving jobs, protecting the long-term interest of the Bee and fostering good journalism. But on the other hand, many employees grew frustrated when the company refused to listen to sensible ideas to lessen the pain on employees.”

Some of those ideas included buyouts, more furlough days and more pay cuts for top managers and executives. The guild asked McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt to try to cut back to just $500,000 a year in salary. After all, it was Pruitt who decided that McClatchy should buy the Knight Ridder newspaper chain in 2006. McClatchy still owes $2 billion in debt on that sweet deal. Timing is everything.

Last year, Pruitt made $1.1 million in base salary, and more than $4 million when his bonuses were figured in. But Pruitt declined the union’s suggestion. Instead, he’ll be taking a 15 percent cut to his salary and forgoing any bonuses for 2008 and 2009. McClatchy’s other top executives are also giving up bonuses and taking 10 percent pay cuts.

All in all, Bites figures Pruitt will have to ride out this dark year with just $1 million for his troubles.

The fact he gets to keep his job while everyone else is getting canned: priceless.