At least 20 highly paid longtime employees of WFOR, the CBS-owned-and-operated TV station in Doral, began receiving offers last week. Senior vice president and associate general counsel Andrew Siegel confirmed the buyouts are being offered at multiple CBS properties in other parts of the country. CBS Corporation owns not only CBS Network but also CBS Sports Network, Showtime Networks, and the publishing company Simon & Schuster.
Reached by phone last week, Siegel explained, “it’s cutting the budget a bit.” He did not elaborate.
Two WFOR employees in Miami who were offered buyouts confirmed the effort is nationwide. One of them said he was informed in a meeting with the local station's vice president and general manager, Adam Levy, and its controller, Carl Larson. The offer, multiple employees confirmed, is being made to those whose years of service and age add up to 80. They were given until March 31 to reply.
The move follows layoffs and buyout offers over the past few weeks at media properties nationwide, including BuzzFeed, Gannett, Vice
If the photographers, producers, editors, engineers, and other veteran employees sign, they would be required to continue to work until June. Some employees have complained the nearly four-month mandatory wait to accept work elsewhere amounts to an unfair no-compete agreement that will prevent them from taking jobs that might be available elsewhere.
Among those who received the offer in Miami are at least two department heads: chief engineer Marcelo Sanchez and production director John Mays. On-air talent and employees with contracts were not among those given the offer.
Numerous sources at WFOR tell New Times the effort to cut costs includes offering targeted employees two weeks of severance pay and continued medical coverage for each year of service. Nick Bourne, WFOR's assistant news director, said the overall staff has been left in the dark regarding details. “Zero explanation has been given, even to many of those being offered the buyouts,” Bourne said.
One photographer, a winner of multiple Emmy Awards and other honors, was devastated to learn of the cutbacks. He is among those who received the offer. He fears he is being forced out. “I’ve spent 35 years here,” he said. “I’ve missed many family events sacrificing my time to have this company’s back,” said the photographer, who asked that his name not be used. “What do I do, where do I go now at my age?”
Others expressed concern about the buyout's effect on their personal lives. An aging clerical worker worries the state might place her adult disabled son in an institution if she loses her home. A director of many decades is concerned that his wife, who is battling breast cancer, won't be able to find insurance coverage.
It's unclear what will happen to employees who decline the buyout offer.
“My brain is fried,” a producer of more than 30 years at the station said. “I don’t know what to do or think.”
Levy, WFOR's vice president, did not reply to New Times' request for comment. Robin Bona, CBS’s director of human resources in New York, did not respond to a voicemail message. Lori Conrad, a spokesperson for CBS, returned a phone call Friday but said answers to questions about the breadth and costs of the buyout blitz might not be quickly provided, if at all.
Analysts have been speculating about a CBS merger with its sibling company, Viacom, following the ouster of former CBS CEO Les Moonves amid a sex scandal as well as the efforts of Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone’s daughter Shari Redstone to gain control of the companies. Shari Redstone is on the board of directors of National Amusements, the parent company of Viacom and CBS.
Coincidentally, a CBS Network News report in December pointed to a general rise in business layoffs, possibly indicating a national economic slowdown.
Gary Nelson recently retired from WFOR.
Correction: The first name of the CBS senior vice president and associate general counsel has been updated. It is Andrew, not Adam.