350 take buyout offer at Sun Number surprises management. New hires are likely.

January 09, 1992|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff

More employees than expected signed up for a voluntary severance offer by the Baltimore Sun Co. and some will have to be replaced by new hires, according to company officials.

The company, publisher of The Evening Sun and The Sun, offered buyouts to about 1,200 of its 2,100 employees in an effort to cut costs. More than 350 accepted the offer, which included from six to 15 months' pay, depending on seniority.

Publisher and chief executive officer Michael J. Davies said yesterday that the company had budgeted for 100 takers when it extended the offer Nov. 22.

"We are proud that we were able to achieve downsizing in such a humane way," Davies said.

The workers who accepted the buyout plan by the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline represent 29 percent of those eligible and 17 percent of the newspaper company's total work force.

Employees were given seven days to change their minds, meaning that those who signed up on the last day have until Tuesday to rescind the decision. The offer included temporary, subsidized medical insurance and job-hunting assistance.

"The cost will be substantial but the savings will also be substantial and it gives us the opportunity to really hire first-class people," Davies said.

The costs will be charged against the company's 1991 results, which should still reflect a profit for the year, he said. The Los Angeles-based Times Mirror Co. owns the Baltimore Sun and does not release profit and loss figures for individual units.

More than 20 percent of the company's 470 newsroom personnel -- including reporters, photographers, editors and librarians -- signed up for the buyout. About 30 percent of the advertising and circulation department employees signed up.

The process set back slightly the company's minority employment record. In the newsroom, minorities went from 16 percent to less than 15 percent of the staff -- still one of the highest rates in the industry, Davies said.

A decision on which or how many of the vacant positions will be filled has not been made, Davies said. He said that while many valued employees elected to leave, so did some who were unhappy and unproductive.

"This has enabled us to end up with a group of people who really want to be here. And it allows us to go out and hire people who are really top people," he said.

The threat of layoffs, which was very real last year, now appears to be over unless the economy further deteriorates, he said. The long-term fate of the Evening Sun is unclear and will likely be decided in the next few years, he said.

The company is in the midst of a restructuring designed to increase suburban coverage and eliminate the traditional competition between reporters from the two newspapers. That project, dubbed "Sunburst," is still under way and officials hope to kick if off in the next few months, Davies said.

As part of that effort, the newspapers in recent days announced massive staffing changes that will see many reporters covering different topics.

Like newspapers across the country, the Evening Sun and Sun are suffering from a slump in advertising related to the recession and competition from other media.

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