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At UN, Broken Machines & Staff "With Hair on Fire," Technology Blamed, Cuts & Off-Shoring

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, October 8 -- The protests of austerity in Spain, Greece and Portugal are echoed at the UN in a fight between workers in its Publishing Section and Assistant Secretary General Franz Baumann. On October 4, the Publishing Section staff went a letter of complaint to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a copy of which Inner City Press obtained, stating in part that

"We are just in the second week of the 67th session of General Assembly and already there is a large number of outstanding printing jobs, which reached 506 on the first day of the General Debate... We believe that the magnitude and scope of the delays in production of mandated parliamentary documents is a crisis dictated by a policy aimed at strangling off publishing at the United Nations"

On October 5, Inner City Press asked ASG Baumann for his comment. To his credit, he did respond beginning:

Thanks as usual for checking back. The facts do not support Mr. Smith's contentions. It would go too far – although it would easily be possible – to refute every single one of his assertions. Here are a few:

"Our Publishing Section processes on average about 100 jobs per day. Just before the beginning of this year’s General Debate, the number rose to over 500. There are no outstanding printing jobs. No document was issued late. Supplies are in stock or being procured on a just-in-time basis."

  There's more, but to move beyond he-said, she-said journalism, Inner City Press has not only sought the Publishing Section staff's reply, but accepted their invitation to actually view the machines at issue.

  As of October 8, the large offset printing Rockwell GOSS machines cannot work: there are no plates. There have also been shortages of sleeves, blankets, even ink and water solution.

  Printing on the GOSS machines is supposedly being replaced by OCE digital machines. But on October 8, two OCE machines were broken. Jobs were, the staff said, backed up. We do the best we can, one said, our hair catches on fire, but the management doesn't listen.

  They're trying to reduce us to a Kinko's operation, another said. (Fed Ex seems to have killed that brand name off.)

  The goal, he continued, is to eliminate the Trades and Craft staff category, which they claim cost $140,000 each. "That's not true - and how about how much each Professional costs?"

  Baumann concluded philosophically:

"In 2010, we replaced off-set technology with digital printers, which need far fewer staff. Instead of the 140 staff members we had in the Publishing Section, we need about 35... Just as the telephone rendered the Morse code obsolete, the photocopier the carbon paper or the internet the paper phone directory, the UN's printed documents are a thing of the past. We will always print a few, but only a few."

  The staff say that some 53 member states asked for more documents in print form, but have not been responded to.

  They say that what printing remains being shifted away from the Committees -- click here for October 8 coverage of the Fourth Committee, by Inner City Press -- leaving a shortage of documents.

  There is UN labor strife beyond the Publishing Division: chief of staff Susana Malcorra had been meeting with department heads about a coming five percent across the board cut, and the Change Management team, revving up for a big video conference, talks of ten percent outsourcing, ten percent "off-shoring" -- a buzzword in this political season.

There are philosophical differences, and more documents, but the facts should be established. We'll have more on this - watch this site.

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