Corporate America Sends a Labor Day Message

rr donnelleyFor most Americans, the only significance of Labor Day is that it concludes a three day weekend.

For Kirk Artley, it means he has about six weeks left of employment.

On August 24, RR Donnelley, a Chicago-based megacorporation that claims to be “the world’s premier full-service provider of print and related services,” told Artley and the other 283 workers at the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, plant that “economic conditions” forced the closing of the book printing facility. The workers said they would take significant pay cuts if that would save the plant. RR Donnelley rejected the offer.

Most of the workers live in Columbia County, a small rural county of about 65,000, with unemployment about 8 percent, slightly less than the national rate. Adding 284 persons would significantly increase that rate.

Under the termination agreement, the workers, both management and labor, wouldn’t have priority rights to bid for jobs at any other plant. “We were told we could apply for open jobs just like anyone else,” says Artley, a bindery technician and president of Local 732C of the Graphic Communications Conference, a Teamsters division. Apparently, there was no way to integrate a couple of hundred workers into a corporation that employs about 58,000. What the corporation that had about $10 billion income last year did agree to do, after negotiations with the union, was award severance of one week pay for every year of service, and to pay for half the health insurance for up to nine months, depending upon length of service.

The corporation told the workers the Bloomsburg plant was no longer profitable. They claimed there was no way the Bloomsburg plant, with its eight rotary offset web presses and five bindery lines, could be competitive in an industry that was moving to digital books. They said other plants would absorb the work. If the company had even contemplated changing the nature of production at Bloomsburg to deal with a changing industry, and re-training the workers, that was never made known to those still employed. Every day, the workers did their jobs, put up with Management, and then went home.

By federal law, there has to be a 60-day notice to the workers. But there is no law to require corporations to tell them the truth.

Contrary to corporate statements and a popular belief that print books are doomed by the emergence and significant increase in publication and sales of digital books, there is still a consumer interest in print. Overall, about 2.57 billion books were sold in 2010, a 4.1 percent increase since 2008, according to data compiled by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). Net sales revenue last year was $27.94 billion, a 5.6 percent increase from two years earlier. The AAP reports there were 603 million copies of trade hardcover books published last year, a 5.8 percent increase from two years earlier, with net sales revenue up about 0.9 percent.

For trade softcover books, sales were about one billion copies, up 2.0 percent from 2008, with net sales revenue of about $5.27 billion, according to the AAP. The only significant decrease was mass market paperbacks (sometimes known as the supermarket or rack paperbacks). In 2010, net unit sales were 319 million, a decrease of 16.8 percent from 2008; net revenue was $1.28 billion in 2010, down 13.8 percent from two years earlier, according to the AAP. The Bloomsburg plant printed Harlequin romances and some other mass market paperbacks, but they were a small part of the overall production.

RR Donnelley itself, with assets of about $9 billion, is profitable, although its stock has had wide fluctuations in 2011. Its net sales for 2010 were $10.02 billion, up from $9.86 billion the year before. For the first half of 2011, Donnelley had net sales of $3.86 billion, up about 5.7 percent from $3.65 billion a year earlier. Its second quarter net sales were $2.62 billion, an 8.6 percent increase from a year earlier. The company CEO, Thomas J. Quinlan III, earns about $2.6 million in total compensation, with a five-year combined compensation of about $13.6 million, according to Forbes. In contrast, hourly workers in the Bloomsburg plant received an average of 2 percent pay raises each year.

“Just last month, the company told us we were profitable, that it had no plans to close us down,” says Artley, “and now they say we aren’t profitable?”

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About Walter M. Brasch

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former multimedia writer-producer, newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and is professor emeritus of mass communications from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, geological, and economic impact of natural gas horizontal fracturing. He also investigates political collusion between the natural gas industry and politicians. Among his 18 books--most of which integrate history, politics, and contemporary social issues--are The Press and the State, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, The Joy of Sax: A Look at the Bill Clinton Administration, and Social Foundations of the Mass Media.
He is also the author of dozens of magazine articles, several multimedia productions, and has worked in the film industry and as a copy writer and political consultant. He is the author 16 books, most of them focusing upon the fusion of historical and contemporary social issues, including America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights (2005); Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of Geroge W. Bush (2008), Black English and the Mass Media (1981); Forerunners of Revolution: Muckrakers and the American Social Conscience (1991); With Just Cause: The Unionization of the American Journalist (1991); Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, and the 'Cornfield Journalist': The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris (2000); The Joy of Sax: America During the Bill Clinton Era (2001); and Sex and the Single Beer Can (3rd ed., 2009). He also is co-author of Social Foundations of the Mass Media (2001) and The Press and the State (1986), awarded Outstanding Academic Book distinction by Choice magazine, published by the American Library Association.

Comments

  1. In response to the article “Corporate America Sends a Labor Day Message”…it is unfortunate to see workers laid off, let go and bamboozled once again. My heart feels very sad that we can no longer trust establishments that in the past our education system and society has taught us we could. However the fact is that companies are in business to make a profit. The fact is we cannot trust them to see our value and benefit us-the worker. As a business owner who left the corporate landscape to pursue my own goals, I learned this hard fact – too early! The statistics were within the article were right on point but makes it very challenging too discern exactly what is going on with the company in regards to the workers because it focused primarily on the income but not the expenses being incurred. Technology is changing the employment landscape dramatically…and I know and have seen or heard too often…a person being replaced by a machine who can perform the work with minimum, if any error, works 24×7, doesn’t complain and no benefits are needed. The article left me saddened but with questions, such as;
    - What are we as a nation going to do to get our present workers prepared to compete in a very different landscape?
    - How are we going to overhaul our education system…so that future workers will be prepared for “thought careers”?
    - What can be done to help “individuals” understand that they must become CEO’s of their career?
    There is a mass execution of the common worker…and no longer any difference between being an employee and being a business owner…so we have to start managing our careers like a business. Selling our skills, talents and abilities as our business and how we deliver them as our product or service. Meaning we have to become experts within our chosen field or industry, we have to provide WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) value to our clients/employers and learn how to market ourselves through multiple platforms while aligning and arming ourselves with a powerful network who will ensure we are never in non-money making capacity. Until we learn these concepts these unfortunate stories will be heard far too often…that makes me very sad.

  2. La Rae Williams says:

    Wow! It really spotlights your lack of understanding who these Men were if you think they would support your hate filled ideals and rhetoric that is designed to pit one person against another. They were about working together and protecting common rights, not scapegoating others…

  3. Grubby, greedy, anti working-class, union-busting, middle-class hating super-rich republican corporate pigs!

  4. Deregulation once again ~ screw the Workers , just maximize the corporate profits .

    Another sad day for America .

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