LA Times: Layoffs, Sabotage and Suicides?

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.”


This article originally appeared on The Frying Pan.