The deadline looms…
Leaders of the largest union, the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, said they are most upset about company proposals to freeze and take over the pension plan, disregard seniority when it comes to layoffs and cut sick pay.
The papers’ nine other unions voted Thursday to extend their contracts through 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 9, said Joe Lyons, president of the Philadelphia Council of Newspaper Unions.
The newspapers were long part of Knight Ridder Inc., which was sold in March to McClatchy Co. McClatchy sold the Philadelphia papers three months later to Philadelphia Media Holdings, an investment group led by Brian Tierney, a former public relations executive who is now the papers’ chief executive, in a deal worth $562 million.
After the purchase, Tierney spoke optimistically of the papers’ futures. But since then, the news at the papers has only been bad.
Weekday circulation at the Inquirer fell 7.6 percent to nearly 331,000 in the six months ended Sept. 30, compared with a national decline in daily circulation of 2.8 percent. And last month Tierney announced that declining ad revenues would require contract concessions and other cost-cutting and that layoffs were unavoidable. The top editor has also since been replaced.
9 of the 10 unions representing the paper’s employees have agreed to extend their talks by a week, however.
Henry Holcomb, president of the [Newspaper] Guild, said its members are not interested in another lengthy extension because “it causes management to relax, then we’ll have a fire drill again.” The contract had already been extended one month.
The company and the Guild have clashed over management’s proposal to freeze and take over the pension, cut sick pay benefits and disregard seniority when it comes to layoffs.
Holcomb said he hadn’t heard directly from the council about its willingness to cross picket lines. If they do, they would be breaking a long Philadelphia tradition, he said.
The Guild’s best hope is that the newspaper delivery drivers also join them at the picket lines. The paper seems to have been lining up replacement reporters just in case… but with no drivers, there’s no papers.