After spending more than 20 years working for one company, Ralph Wakley saw his salary cut by 35 percent Friday, and he says prospects for the future of his company, one of the best-known names in the world of news, are unsure.
Wakley, manager of the Salt Lake office of United Press International, is one of about 275 employees of the national wire news service.UPI, based in New York City, dates to 1907.
Employees of UPI who are members of the Wire Service Guild voted by a majority of 62 percent to take a 35 percent wage cut for 90 days. The pay slash affects UPI's editorial staff, photo technicians and some office personnel.
Wakley said UPI managers told employees the pay cut would keep the company viable while management attempts to sell all or part of it.Ballots on the proposed wage cut were mailed Nov. 6, returnable by Nov. 16. UPI wanted the pay cut to be retroactive to Nov. 4, but union officials refused to accept any wage cut until after the vote.
UPI reduced the salaries of all non-union employees by 35 percent for 90 days Nov. 4 and announced it had rescinded its policy granting severance and notice pay to these employees.
It immediately announced that it was asking guild members to accept the same pay cut. Severance and notice pay provisions would continue for WSG-covered employees.
Management said earlier this month that it would file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidate the company if the union did not submit the wage-cut proposal to UPI workers, or if employees rejected the pay cut.
The WSG executive committee agreed to the vote but recommended that union members vote against acceptance. The union is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.
"The owners told us Nov. 3 they had six potential buyers for the wire service. Now I understand there are 12 potential buyers."
Wakley joined the company in 1970 and has worked in Salt Lake City most of the time since then. His office used to have bureaus in Boise; Helena, Mont.; and Spokane, Wash.
He said the Spokane bureau was closed the end of August and the Boise and Helena bureaus were shut down in September.
When Wakley joined UPI in Salt Lake, the office had 10 employees. That number was cut to seven in the mid-'70s and by 1976 was down to five. Two years ago, Wakley said, his office staff was cut to three full-time people and one part-time employee and by last August that number was down to two. On Oct. 26, the number was cut to one.
Wakley, the survivor, says UPI has been cut into five separate businesses, including UPI departments that cover sports, financial news, regular news and foreign news and UPI's photography staff. Any one of the five departments could be sold as a separate business.
"A new owner could buy UPI and get rid of one or more departments that he didn't want, or five owners could buy up the five parts of UPI," Wakley said.
The average pay for a UPI employee who has been on the job more than six years is $690 a week, Wak-ley said. That means the average UPI union member will now make $460 a week.