When the Seattle Times this month asked its 11 unions for a 12 percent reduction in payroll and benefits by March 31, some speculated the Blethen family ownership was trying to cash in on the misery and vulnerability of newspaper employees. Wasn't the jettisoning of almost 500 employees last year enough? "The overarching message [is] one of survival," Senior Vice President Alayne Fardella said woefully in a memo. "We simply cannot afford to delay."
At least one union is beginning to believe it, and the possibility - with the looming closure of at least the P-I's print edition - that Seattle will become a no-newspaper town - no mainstream print daily, anyway. "Is the Times upside down, financially?" asks Liz Brown, administrative officer of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, which represents P-I and Times circulation, advertising and news employees. "Yes," she tells us. When the Guild - the Times biggest union - recently forced the Blethens' hand and asked to see the company books, "They answered yes," says Brown. "When that happens, it's bad."
The Guild is now scheduling a financial review to see just how bad it is. The Times has opened its books in the past, Brown adds. "And they substantiated what management was telling us."