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PiPress seeks unpaid leaves of absence

Can the Pioneer Press newsroom staff get any tinier and still put out a daily? We may soon know.
By David Brauer

Can the Pioneer Press newsroom staff get any tinier and still put out a daily? We may soon know.

According to a memo last week from Editor Thom Fladung, the paper has “decided to offer unpaid leaves of absence to all employees.” He deferred further comment to PiPress publisher Guy Gilmore.

Spokeswoman Pat Effenberger says the program “provides an option for employees seeking flexibility, along with some limited cost-savings for the company.”

Seeking leaves is a nicer cost-cutting measure than layoffs, which are contractually forbidden among PiPress Newspaper Guild members until Jan. 1.

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Effenberger notes the PiPress made a similar leave offer in 2001-02, during the last big advertising recession. She said there was “limited” participation then — just who exactly gives up a salary when the economy is struggling? — and expects the same now.

But back then, the PiPress had a larger staff. While Fladung and the company say leave requests can be rejected for workflow reasons, they wouldn’t ask if they didn’t want to accept most. And employees who get to bug out now will leave behind co-workers who have to do more — or the PiPress will produce even less.

The paper is already publishing Obama-skinny Monday and Tuesday papers; what’s next?

Here’s part of Fladung’s memo:

Fellow newsroom employees: The company has decided to offer unpaid leaves of absence to all employees — union and management. … The leaves are being offered across the building, with each division handling the rollout.

We will consider anyone who is interested in a leave. But we may not grant every leave request. Ultimately, that will be up to me in the newsroom, and I’ll do my best to accommodate everyone. You can begin applying for the leaves immediately.

Human Resources memo excerpts:

For reasons of flexibility and economy, the Pioneer Press is willing to allow unpaid leaves of absence, while offering to continue the employer contribution for medical benefits as currently paid for active employees. …

Leaves of absence may be taken under the following conditions:

* Leaves may involve consecutive days or consecutive weeks, or a reduction in hours or days per week over a period of several weeks. Benefit status will remain at a full-time level during the period of the leave of absence.

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* The leave of absence must be no longer than six months in duration. After six months, you must return to work full-time.

* Leaves must support business needs of the company, allowing for appropriate workflow and service to readers and advertisers. …