LA Times: Layoffs, Sabotage and Suicides?

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January 31, 2012 in Labor & Economy

Ed Padgett was driving in the rain to a union meeting when the L.A. Times called to tell him he was fired. The pressman, a third-generation Times employee, listened in shock last December to an HR woman’s voice explain he was being dismissed for “safety violations, dishonesty and suspicion of sabotage.”

That last charge had a bittersweet irony. Padgett had been at the paper for more than 39 years and had done everything he could to help it prosper – even as members of the corporate wrecking crew that drove the paper into bankruptcy were still counting their money.

“It was similar to jumping into an icy cold pool of water,” Padgett recalls. “I felt like crying because I’d been there so damn long, but I soon got over it.” He drove on to his meeting in  La Mirada, but hasn’t been back to the Times printing plant on Olympic Boulevard to clean out his locker.

“I just have my work boots in it,” he says, “and a knife I use to trim newsprint rolls when they get twisted up — it saves a lot of money.” Padgett filed a grievance through Teamster Local 140-N, a process that may take another month. His case is complicated because the Times fired him the day his union was to ratify a new contract.

Padgett is no ordinary Times employee, but a union activist and a blogger whose Los Angeles Times Pressmens 20-Year Club site has chronicled working conditions at the Times, as well as its financial decline. This has made him a lightning rod for disciplinary actions – and the recipient of insider news. A well-placed staffer, he says, recently told him that between 20 and 25 writers are about to be terminated.

“You’ll be hearing about it soon,” he says.

(L.A. Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan declined to comment on this and other statements contained in this article, other than to say, “Ed Padgett served as a pressman for the Times and is not a spokesperson for the company nor did his position provide him with access to overall company operations.”)

That news, if true, underscores problems the country’s fifth-largest paper has been having, including plunging circulation.

“Circulation has been way down,” Padgett says. “I asked a guy in the circulation department how many papers don’t get sold and he said, ‘At least 25 percent,’ without blinking an eye.”

Shortly after Padgett’s firing there was a “Christmas purge” of workers, followed by a “New Years Purge.”

“Those folks each got $20,000 in severance,” Padgett claims. “Two of the fellows were let go two weeks early because they were worried about sabotage. They’re so paranoid, because it’s not just my department — it includes editorial.”

Padgett believes it’s possible there’s some reality behind the company’s fears. A Teamster email he posted on his blog in December warned members against engaging in sabotage — while denying such behavior. But what does that ultimately say about a company that its employees would harm the source of their livelihoods?

This all comes against a backdrop of increasing workplace despair created by the economic outlook for print publications, one deepened by the suicides of two former colleagues.

“One was 61 and the other 52,” Padgett says. “The first was right after Thanksgiving and the second before Christmas.” He explained that one worked in the operations plant while the other was a company truck driver. Padgett credits his large family and good friends for keeping him upbeat now that he’s suddenly found himself without work.

He adds that he’s not going to become a suicide statistic.

“I won’t do it,” he says. “It might hurt.”

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Steven Mikulan
Capital & Main editor Steven Mikulan is a Los Angeles writer.
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  • Istartblee

    I would like to say great job of service to what was once a prestige newspaper! I strongly believe your voice is needed some where else, where your voice can make a difference in those who truly need you! You were the voice for so many of your fellow press person’s and you did a great job. I hope moving foward you can realize how much you have to offer those who need that voice for them! Thanks…

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  • http://twitter.com/wildbell Will Campbell

    I cancelled my subscription after learning about Ed’s termination.

  • http://twitter.com/benknight8 ben knight

    Now wait a minute. I have little doubt that the paper ginned up a case against this guy, but what does he say about the reasons they gave for firing him? How does he rebut them, if he does? Ironically, this kind of half-assed reporting is what we increasingly get in our daily news discourse as great news organizations like the LA Times are gutted and trashed and basic reporting skill is lost.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

      Yep. I would add: uh, maybe some more info on these “suicides?” Kind of a big matzo ball hanging out there.

      • Ronnie

        What more do you need to know Dan? Two hard working, dedicated L.A.Times employees were laid-off for no reason other than greed and sadly were unable to cope with life’s drastic change they were forced to accept. People, you will agree are genuinely unique and no two are the same, unfortunately some resort to the same heartbreaking decision to live no more. Does this satisfy your morbid curiosity for more info on these “suicides”?

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  • Anonymous

    When all the journalists (and all the workers who support the press industry) become corporate owned slaves, how will the rest of us remain free?

    • Adela Rogers

      Well, after Big Media appropriates the Internet, surrounds it with a steep pay-wall, and purges any non-corporate-owned sites, hackers will devise a free “parallel Internet”– one that runs alongside (think of an alt-layered SuperNet), and is accessed via an applet that scrambles the code so that the System doesn’t know it’s there, but that the people who are capable of critical thinking will, by word-of-mouth, seek to connect to.

      This way, information will continue to flow no matter how much SoViaDis-TimeCast tries to limit everyone to American Idol and The Real Kelly Kardashian Next Door.

  • allenels

    Unfortunately, when Zell made his plans known to “buy” the LA Times long with the Tribune, a death knell had already begun to chime at he LA Times. The Chandlers were always in the business for the lifestyle it afforded them. In my mind, after Shelby Coffee left, it was just a matter of time before the corporate mentality took hold and destroyed the LA Times. Something was clearly amiss when HR decided, in the early 1990′s, that a BA was necessary just to become a security guard.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jane.summer3 Jane Summer

    How disheartening to think that the only major paper left to read is such a disaster…apparently to its employees and ultimately to those of us who still read newspapers. This makes me want to cancel my subscription and simply do what everyone else is…shoving my face into an electronic device while having coffee and watching the morning new on TV.

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  • http://www.saveourtrade.blogspot.com/ President Ronnie Pineda

    Ed is being used to make an example of for others in the pressroom to deter alleged sabotage, as stated to me personally by the SVP of Operations at the L.A. Times.
    The reasons for Brother Padgett’s termination are weak and circumstantial at best, but it is difficult to convince management to reverse this coldhearted decision for the fact that we had yet to ratify our new Collective Bargaining Agreement which gives our Local the ability to grieve and arbitrate our differences with the Company. The Company representatives stated that they would allow the Union to grieve Ed’s termination, but not agree to Arbitrate their decision to terminate. That simply means that we will not be able to present this unjust termination to a third party for an impartial decision.

    We have not abandoned our brother ED and continue to seek Ed’s return to the pressroom, because that is where he rightfully belongs!

    Ronnie Pineda
    President,
    GCC/IBT Local 140-N

    • philip chandler

      hey ronnie the poorest chandler here is raising chickens and looking like a doomsday prepper without the money or prep.
      speaking for myself,the chandlers just care about the money,selling it off toa zionist fucking pig like zell is just par for the course considering their history
      of self entitlement,akin to their lack of a fiduciary ideal to the employees.
      my father bruce chandler is just a selfish fox news psychophant swirling in a continual orbit of shit slung from fox news,punctuated by cnbc to make sure he won’t be dragged (what the one percent really fear)with the rest of you running a treadmill thats going faster than you are.
      my political viewpoint for upcoming election,criticism of hopey changey by the right(mitt,newt,sanatarium)is kinda of like watching an old hitler rally:as obama is more of a centrist republican in his actions so criticism from the pyschophant repub cabal is to the extreme right,making them look like jack booted facists.

      hopey changey gets no free pass from me either.he has picked up the ball where gw dropped it and so many ways,guantanamo,iraq,afghanistan,killing amercians without due process,killing anyone without due process,libya,syria and now iran.
      going after whistleblowers (manning vs wuterich)and using the espionage act more times than any prior president combined.. bailing out the banks twice.
      ron paul is the only canidate who is line with my ideals of humanitariansim,if he only he understood kensyian econmics.

      • Ronnie

        Brother Phillip,

        It is always enlightening to hear from you and I revel in your perspective as usual. I only wish you would have held a position of authority at the Times to bring balance to the corporate tilt that put us on this path that leads to Chicago’s slaughter houses.

        As far as the nation and its woes, It appears Prescott Bush is alive and well in his efforts to create a Nazi America. Who is worthy to sit in the Seat Of Authority that will actually stand up for this country and its people? We are on course to relive one of the ugliest parts of history if we don’t recognize what is really being planned by those in power; and I don’t mean our elected officials.

        Long Live The Queen!

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