AldenInvests

 

Union workers across the nation expressed indignation and outrage after Digital First Media sent an announcement celebrating high profits and satisfied shareholders, even as the company’s employees have endured unprecedented pay cuts, layoffs and job uncertainty.

The company-wide email was sent late Wednesday by DFM president and CEO Steve Rossi to announce the company’s purchase, made official today, of two Southern California dailies, the Orange County Register and Riverside Press Enterprise, for a final price of $49.8 million.

“I want to express my thanks to you, the employees of Digital First Media and our management team for your contributions in making this a possibility. Your dedication and perseverance have resulted in impressive results for our company over the past few years. Our board and shareholders recognize these accomplishments, and have encouraged us to pursue such opportunities,” Rossi wrote.

“Our revenue performance is at the top of the industry,” he added.

Response from employees, including renewed demands to share the wealth, was immediate.

“So we employees have ‘contributed’ to making this a possibility by … getting paid in pennies, so they could afford to buy more papers?” said one East Bay Area (California) employee who preferred not to be named. “Why would they even send that out? Are they just that clueless about how it comes across?”

“If DFM has the assets to pay over 50 million dollars to acquire yet another set of assets, why are employees of its existing papers being laid off at alarming rates, working for many years without raises, and seeing our existing papers consolidated or closed?” wrote Denver Post makeup team members Paulette Shrefler, Connie Utley, Shannon Wills, and Bonnie Yunker in a joint letter to Rossi. “It is clear to us that DFM has acquired these new publications at the expense of our existing ones.”

Members of the Pacific Media Workers Guild and Bay Area News Group-East Bay Unit sent a joint response to Rossi on Thursday.

“While we appreciate the thanks you expressed in your March 30th memo, the actions of Digital First Media do not come close to reflecting that sentiment,” the letter stated.

“… The fact is, your ‘impressive results for our company over the past few years’ weren’t thanks to our perseverance but rather by taking advantage of our dedication.  Your ‘revenue performance is at the top of the industry’ at the expense of your employees, made by paying us insultingly and frankly inhumanely low wages.

“You should feel ashamed for bragging about your gains to the employees on whose backs they were made.”

At newspapers in the Philadelphia area, union workers wrote, “What are you thanking us for?  Working in deplorable, unsafe conditions? …We will continue to meet our end of the bargain to secure our future, when will you meet yours?”

“Let’s stand outside and blow the victory trumpets for this announcement,” said Guild workers at the Trentonian. “Meanwhile at all the local DFM papers, we, the workers, have battled layoffs, staff cuts, rising medical costs and no raises for the last 10 years. Many of us are working more than one job to make ends meet.”

Celebration followed by mass layoffs

Shortly after Rossi welcomed Orange County Register and Riverside Press Enterprise employees into the DFM family, the Los Angeles Times reported there will be 70 layoffs at the Register, including editor Rob Curley, who told the Times that Thursday was his last day. The Orange County Weekly on Friday reported 90 planned layoffs at both papers.

The expansion also comes as DFM announced newsroom staff cuts of up to 20 percent in San Jose and the East Bay, the folding of the Oakland Tribune, which on Monday will cease publication after nearly 150 years, and more layoffs at DFM papers around the country.

DFM is owned by vulture fund Alden Global Capital, and has been aggressively slashing its workforce while employees have worked up to 10 years without raises. In fact, many have endured decreases in benefits that amount to pay cuts of 12 percent or more.

A few DFM union members said they chose to take Rossi’s email as positive news.

“Mr. Rossi’s update to DFM employees is great news!” wrote Denver Newspaper Guild president Laurie Faliano. “With revenue performance at the top of the industry and a strong digital strategy in place, the future looks promising. Multi-year contracts with nice raises each year shouldn’t be a problem.

“To better serve our readers and communities, we would expect that staffing levels can now be restored and maintained. We can’t wait to get back to the bargaining table.”

In Oakland, union members and community supporters plan to rally under the paper’s landmark building at 11 a.m. on Monday, the last day the paper will be published.

DFM is consolidating the Tribune, the Contra Costa Times, Fremont Argus and Hayward Daily Review. All the community dailies will become weekly inserts into the new East Bay Times.

“We want the East Bay Times to succeed,” said Carl Hall, executive officer of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. “The problem is that this corporate owner seems to define ‘success’ in a way that does not have much to do with quality journalism.”

Read Rossi’s email below, followed by responses from Guild members around the country.

A Message From Steve Rossi to All Employees

“As I am sure you have been following in the media, for the past several months Digital First Media has been pursuing the acquisition of the assets of Freedom Communications, including the Orange County Register and the Riverside Press Enterprise.  Our purchase received final approval this morning in bankruptcy court in Southern California.  The transaction is expected to close tomorrow.  Please join me in welcoming the employees of these newspapers, digital properties and niche publications into our company.

I want to express my thanks to you, the employees of Digital First Media and our management team for your contributions in making this a possibility.  Your dedication and perseverance have resulted in impressive results for our company over the past few years. Our board and shareholders recognize these accomplishments, and have encouraged us to pursue such opportunities.

Our revenue performance is at the top of the industry. Our digital growth and digital revenue mix are also in the top tier of our industry peers. We have a strong digital strategy in place, and we are executing aggressively.

The Freedom assets are a natural fit with our nine newspapers in Southern California. They are an excellent complement to our existing markets, as there is little overlap.  As a result, our Southern California footprint is expanded into Orange and Riverside Counties.  Please offer your support and assistance to Sharon Ryan, Executive Vice President for our Western Region, and Ron Hasse, President of what will be named our Southern California Newspaper Group, in assuring a smooth transition.”

– Steve

 

Responses

Mr. Rossi,

While we appreciate the thanks you expressed in your March 30th memo, the actions of Digital First Media do not come close to reflecting that sentiment. Therefore, it raises the question of what exactly you’re thanking us for.

Are you thanking us for accepting uncertainty into our lives with your announced plans for layoffs?  For working without pay raises for nearly a decade?  For going without any retirement plan, even something as basic as a company match to our 401(k) plan?  For unwittingly overseeing the functional elimination of one of the country’s best known newspapers, the 147-year-old Oakland Tribune?

The fact is, your “impressive results for our company over the past few years” weren’t thanks to our perseverance but rather by taking advantage of our dedication. Your “revenue performance is at the top of the industry” at the expense of your employees, made by paying us insultingly and frankly inhumanely low wages.

You should feel ashamed for bragging about your gains to the employees on whose backs they were made. If the “board and shareholders recognize these accomplishments,” they should show it not by spending tens of millions of dollars on new papers but by canceling the planned layoffs of 20% of our staff and paying us a wage high enough to support ourselves and our families.

We will offer support and assistance to you as soon as you offer support and assistance to us.

Pacific Media Workers Guild

BANG-East Bay Unit

 

As Denver Post employees, it is difficult to see this new acquisition as a positive development. Upon hearing that DFM has just paid many millions of dollars to purchase yet another set of struggling newspapers, the obvious question that comes to mind is this: if DFM has the assets to pay over 50 million dollars to acquire yet another set of assets, why are employees of its existing papers being laid off at alarming rates, working for many years without raises, and seeing our existing papers consolidated or closed? It is clear to us that DFM has acquired these new publications at the expense of our existing ones.

When we hear that new publications have been acquired by DFM, we do not see a positive future for the employees of those publications, many of whom will likely see their jobs eliminated or outsourced in the future. If past developments are any indication, any profits made by the newly acquired Freedom Communications publications will be siphoned off by investors, leaving the papers and their employees less viable, and more vulnerable to consolidation and closure.

As employees of Digital First Media, we affirm that the best way DFM can “express thanks” to us would be to negotiate our long-expired contracts in a timely manner, invest in our work by giving us the pay raises we deserve, and cease the elimination and outsourcing of our jobs. Until such measures are taken, it will be hard to read into this letter any genuine intention for the welfare of DFM employees. We would like to share in the successes of DFM, but considering the present circumstances, we see this new “success” as merely another threat to the security of our jobs and our future.

Sincerely,

Paulette Shrefler, Connie Utley, Shannon Wills, and Bonnie Yunker

Denver Post Makeup Team

 

Mr. Rossi’s update to DFM employees is great news! With revenue performance at the top of the industry and a strong digital strategy in place, the future looks promising. Multi-year contracts with nice raises each year shouldn’t be a problem. To better serve our readers and communities, we would expect that staffing levels can now be restored and maintained. We can’t wait to get back to the bargaining table.

On behalf of the employees of The Denver Post represented by The NewsGuild-CWA, we welcome employees of the OC Register and Press-Enterprise to the family. We hope that you all retain employment and share in the prosperity that Mr. Rossi described. If there is anything we can do to help assure that happens, please let us know.

Laurie Faliano

President, Denver Newspaper Guild

 

Dear Mr. Rossi,

Like our DFM brothers and sisters across the country, we appreciate the things you expressed in your March 30th memo. We agree that the actions of Digital First Media do not come close to reflecting that sentiment. What are you thanking us for?  Working in deplorable, unsafe conditions?  Going without raises for close to a decade?  For replacing our hard earned, secure Defined Pension Benefit with a measly company match to a 401k plan? Or watching close to 50 percent of our coworkers lose their jobs?

Or is it thanks for delaying contract negotiations for over a year, when according to you, the revenue performance of DFM is top in the industry?

We will continue to meet our end of the bargain to secure our future, when will you meet yours?

The Newspaper Guild of Philadelphia

The Delaware County Times

The Pottstown Mercury

The Norristown Times Herald

The Trentonian

 

In Steve Rossi’s recent glorious email to all Digital First Media Workers, he states, “Our revenue performance is at the top of the industry. Our digital growth and digital revenue mix are also in the top tier of our industry peers. We have a strong digital strategy in place, and we are executing aggressively.”

Let’s stand outside and blow the victory trumpets for this announcement.

Meanwhile at all the local DFM papers, we, the workers, have battled layoffs, staff cuts, rising medical costs and no raises for the last 10 years. Many of us are working more than one job to make ends meet. DFM employees are like sponges that management just keeps wringing out to get as much work out of each individual as possible.

I compare DFM workers to the classic Charlton Heston movie, The 10 Commandments. All DFM workers hard work and sweat have been helping to build the money pyramids for the DFM corporate gentlemen so they can keep buying more properties.

Instead of purchasing more properties, how about getting more staff in all your buildings, fixing your properties, and increasing our biweekly paychecks.

The Trentonian News Guild

 

The DFM empire seems to be heading in opposite directions at the same time.

DFM just spent $49.8 million to purchase two California media properties — The Orange County Register and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside.

Based on the other properties DFM owns in SoCal, it looks like a smart deal for an expanding business.

As a DFM worker at The Denver Post, however, I’m inclined to send condolences to our new colleagues in California.

On Thursday night I attended a going away party for my former boss, Greg Moore, late editor of The Denver Post.

Under Moore’s leadership, he was editor from 2002 to 2016, the Post won four Pulitzer Prizes. The Post launched DPTV under his tenure and The Cannabist, which covers Colorado’s marijuana industry like no other publication, was born under Moore’s guidance.

But Moore, like so many other stellar Post employees before him, decided it was time to move on.

Years of staff cuts, budget cuts, stagnant wages and an uncertain future, persuaded numerous journalists, many with ink in their veins, to move on from the work they loved.

In a letter to DFM workers this week, Steve Rossi, president and CEO of DFM gushed as he expressed his “thanks” to employees.

“I want to express my thanks to you, the employees of Digital First Media and our management team for your contributions in making this ($49.8 million purchase) a possibility.  Your dedication and perseverance have resulted in impressive results for our company over the past few years. Our board and shareholders recognize these accomplishments, and have encouraged us to pursue such opportunities.”

Rossi, in his letter, went on: “Our revenue performance is at the top of the industry.  Our digital growth and digital revenue mix are also in the top tier of our industry peers.  We have a strong digital strategy in place, and we are executing aggressively.”

How about getting aggressive with the workers who, you say, have helped make this possible and give them all well-deserved raises that have been way too long in coming.

If DFM’s “revenue performance” is indeed “at the top of the industry,” how about sharing some of the spoils with the workers who make this possible.

It’s time for raises, we’ve waited long enough.

Kieran Nicholson

Denver Post staff writer

Newsroom unit chair, Denver News Guild

 

Advertisements