Last Thursday, more than 40 protestors gathered outside the One MetroTech Center in Brooklyn after the city’s largest and oldest Spanish-language magazine, El Diario laid off 12 employees. The firings created a controversy since El Diario’s parent company impreMedia are accused of breaking the contract workers and not providing any severance packages or the required two weeks’ notice.
The firings have been linked to the unfair labor practices the guild charged impreMedia back in March with the National Labor Relations Board. The charges came after an editorial meeting in February where Juan Varella, the vice president of content at impreMedia, allegedly warned the room of reporters about their connection to the union, made disparaging remarks about the union, and said that some in attendance would soon no longer be employed with the company.
The result of the charges made impreMedia enter into a settlement with the guild and the NLRB. An agreement was also made saying that the company would honor the contract to negotiate with the union in the future.
Agreement or not, impreMedia choose not to comply and now 12 people are without their jobs.
“I’m very upset,” said Elba Wolmard. Still an employee at El Diario in the sales and advertising departing for 23 years, Wolmard expresses what life is now like at El Diario, “They let go of my coworkers and I’m fearing for my job.”
For the past few months there has been tension within the newspaper. Allegedly, after being in circulation for nearly a century readership of the newspaper was down and in an effort to increase it impreMedia gave El Diario a redesign in order to shift that.
However, the revamping of El Diario was not without turmoil.
Back in November during a staff meeting regarding the newspaper’s redesign impreMedia’s content director Juan Varela allegedly called El Diario a “ghetto” paper that needed to hold standards in pursuit of more “educated” readers. It is because of this supposed incident things became tense at the publication.
In March, managing editor of El Diario Erica Gonzalez abruptly left the publication. In-addition to leaving staffers, some reporters at the newspaper have criticized the executives of the foreign media company for being insensitive when it comes to the needs of the Latino community within New York City.
Back in May, former opinion editor Gamaliel Ramos who left the publication because he “wasn’t happy with the way things were going,” and saw the paper shifting away from covering social issues for a more celebrity tabloid coverage.
“You cannot put lipstick on a pig and say you are informing the community if the information you put out isn’t useful,” added Ramos.
Prior to the protest, a meeting was held between the impreMedia management and union leadership. However, the meeting did not go well and so the protest commence.
Speaking before the crowd, Bill O’Meara, the president of the Newspaper Guild of New York which represents eight of the 12 laid-off employees, told the crowd that the owners of El Diario had refused to bring back the fired staffers.
Also, during the meeting one reason why impreMedia claims they cannot give back the laid-off 12 their jobs is because the company is supposedly under considerable financial strain.
However, O’Meara and the guild gave some indication that they did not believe impreMedia’s financial claims.
According to El Diario employees they had been previously told that the company was doing fine in-addition there has been multiple new employees that have been hired The new employees are in fact doing some of the work of those let go.
“It’s union busting is what it is,” said O’Meara, pointing out what impreMedia is trying to do in-regards to the firings, “We are hearing that they have some type of a restructuring plan that involves avoiding the union, getting rid of union members and hiring nonunion members.”
During the meeting, the guild requested access to view the financials of the company in order to confirm the claim that El Diario and impreMedia are currently suffering from economic hardship which was the alleged reason for making the layoffs. According to O’Meara, impreMedia would allow the Newspaper Guild to see the records if they agreed to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
Union leaders also requested during the meeting that impreMedia enter into an expedited arbitration were a decision would be made on the legality of the layoffs during the following weeks.
As for 8 of the union employees who were laid-off, the guild requested that they be allowed to return to work until a decision will be made through arbitration. Also, the additional work time would not be added to the severance liability.
According to O’Meara, if impreMedia doesn’t agree to an expedited arbitration the process could drag on for weeks and months. If that does happen the process would be costly to the paper while unpleasant for its current employees.
On the matter of the paper’s financial issues, Oscar Hernandez, the elected Newspaper Guild leader for the El Diario employees since 1997 and a classified ad salesman at the paper, does not believe it at all.
“If the paper is truly suffering and you really need relief, do it according to the contract,” said Hernandez at the protest.
Since impreMedia has gone against the agreement struck with the guild and the National Labor Relations Board the guild plan is to void said agreement and file charges with the company. The fight for the 12 laid-off former-employees of El Diario is not over, but appears to be getting started.