Seated on a newsroom desk in front of about 100 employees, Washington Star Chairman Joe L. Allbritton said yesterday that previously announced staff cuts designed to aid the paper's financial position would not take place after all.
Newsroom employees said later there was an almost audible sigh of relief at Allbirtton's words. "It's Happy New Year a month early at the rising Washington Star," said a bulletin put out shortly after Allbritton's talk by Nancy Ferris, chirperson of the newspaper's unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, the labor union that represents many employees atThe Star.
Allbritton did not make clear in his talk why he had reversed the decision to lay off some employees. "I believe it's self-evident he hopes to be able to find other economies," said Steve Richard, Allbritton's spokesman, Ferris said. "We don't know what factors led to his decision but we assume that the Guild failure to cooperate with his plan played a part. . ."
Allbritton said in his talk that he could not "find it in himself" to go through with the layoffs, according to Richard.
According to Richard's account. Allbritton cited to his employees a need for "futher" belt tightening," at the newspaper. The chairman cited as an example of this belt-tightening efforts to redesign the Star building in order to create rental office space, eliminate unused space and cut high utility bills, Richard said.
Allbritton said that utility bills at the newspaper had at one point increased $2,200 a month over last year but that alteration to the building now under way are expected to eliminate $1,500 of that increase monthly, according to Richard.
The chairman told his employees that The Star is now earning "a bare minimum" profit, and he emphasized his determination to keep the newspaper "profitable on its own in order we maintain our independent integrity," according to Richard, who said he took notes during the talk yesterday afternoon.
Allbritton made it clear that the no-layoff policy would apply to all Star employees, according to Ricard. However, the chairman did not make it clear whether overall reductions in force at the newspaper might still be accomplished by not replacing employees who either retire or leave the paper for other reasons, Richard said. Richard said he "can't speculate" on the issue of attrition or retirements.
A Star newsroom employee close to the Guild, who asked not to be identified, said that the issued of attrition and retirements is not crucial at this point. "We can keep on putting out a paper as long as nobody's forced to leave," said the employee.
The layoff plan was outlined generally in a memo several weeks ago from Star president James H. Smith to managers at the paper. "We are planning a reduction in force in all department," said the memo, which went on to advise managers to decide the number of employees in each job classification who would be "relieved."
Allbritton yesterday praised Smith as "a good businessman, a good president," according to Richard.