By Jim Bleyer
Three weeks after 265 Tampa Tribune employees were abruptly fired in a numbingly cold-blooded mass dismissal while the man directly responsible for the carnage hunkers down in a fabricated foxhole shunning questions.
Paul Tash, publisher of the Tampa Bay Times has never been at a loss spewing self-serving propaganda to further his personal ambitions. He remains, however, incommunicado to anyone asking penetrating questions regarding the circumstances and legality surrounding the Times acquisition of the Tribune and the terminations.
A call to his office Friday was met with the immediate response, “He won’t be in today.” After elaborating on the subject matter—the Times violation of the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act—Floridiocy was informed Tash had a “medical emergency” and would likely be out of the office all this week as well. Another call yesterday confirmed the alleged reason for Tash’s inability to field pertinent inquiries about the non-compliant cashiering of the former Tribune staffers and the lives it affected.
Previously, Floridiocy spoke with Department of Labor analyst Rachel Berryman about WARN which requires a 60-day heads up to employees about impending layoffs. She stated that the Times-Tribune situation and timeline epitomizes non-compliance, adding that the act’s explicit exemptions did not apply.
We also spoke with three Bay area attorneys who were never affiliated with either news entity. Two stated unequivocally that the Times violated the terms of WARN and none of the exemptions factored into this case. The third attorney offered no opinion.
Tribune employees were informed about the acquisition May 3, handed 60 days severance pay, a notice, and ordered off the premises. Tash initially announced “at least 100 Tribune employees” would lose their jobs. A consensus of former Tribune workers puts the number hired by the Times at “about five.”
The WARN Act also states says that the notice to employees must contain the “name and contact information for a person in the company who can provide additional information” but this was not included by the Times. The notice said the Times was compliant with the WARN Act, a laughable claim considering the ex-workers were given no opportunity for either adjustment or retraining.
Berryman explained that because the Department of Labor has no enforcement authority, the best remedy for the laid off employees would be a class action suit against the Times where damages could amount up to another sixty days pay for each worker not retained. Our best estimate is that could add up to $1.5 million minimum.
A public records request made to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhornâ€™s office found that no WARN notice was received by the City of Tampa in advance of or by May 3. One was received subsequently. Federal law also requires that WARN notices be given in advance to “the chief elected official of the local government where the closing or mass layoff is to occur” when companies with more than 100 employees lay off at least 50 people. An employer who fails to provide notice to a unit of local government is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $500 for each day of violation.
Calls to Buckhorn’s office went unreturned. The politically ambitious mayor, now with only one daily newspaper serving his home area, is understandably avoiding confronting a potential ally with a captive, however temporary, audience.
Notice must also be given to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The 2016 WARN notices on the Departmentâ€™s website did not on May 3 display the Tampa Tribune layoffs by the Tampa Bay Times. Advance notice to the State of Florida is required by federal law. According to Erin Gillespie. Director of Communications and External Affairs for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, it received the Times notice on May 6, adding that “the day we receive the notice is considered as the notice date.” The Times administered the quick fix two days following a Tampa Bay Guardian story about the federal violation.
The Times Publishing Company “purchased” the Tampa Tribune from Revolution Capital Group but the parties reportedly substantially entered into a contract for the purchase several months ago. Both parties have refused to disclose a sales price.
The Times and Tribune have been suffering financially for years as consumers opt for digital news over print media. Like most newspapers around the country, the two never figured out how to successfully monetize the new paradigm.
The Times liquidated its real estate to infuse more capital its into continuing operations. There also have been buyouts, layoffs, and budget cuts. But Tash has been doing quite well, receiving nearly $504,000 in compensation–many would say overcompensation–during 2014 (see below). He reportedly has received at least a half million dollars annually since 2009.
It’s no wonder he’s ducking questions.
(The writer worked for the Tampa Tribune from 1968-1973 and was not personally acquainted with any of the adversely affected employees. Tom Rask contributed to this story)