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Star Tribune newsroom leaders agree to furloughs, $1.7 million in comp cuts

Negotiators for the Star Tribune's newsroom union and management reached an agreement in principle Friday morning that includes $1.7 million in compensation cuts, including furloughs, pension freezes and reduced severance. The proposed contract will run through July 2011.

I'll have more details in a bit, but a very rapid review of the Newspaper Guild memo (below) shows union leaders staved off management's shoot-for-the-moon demand to end seniority. However, management will have the right to exempt a "small number" of employees — think new hires management really wants to keep — from seniority-ranked layoffs.

It will also cost management less to get rid of unfavored veterans; severance will be reduced from a cap of 40 weeks for 20-year-plus vets to 33 weeks.

[Update: Guild leadership sent out a correction Friday: Severance tops out at 30 weeks.]

Workers who remain will get a 3 percent wage scale cut, a 30 percent across-the-board merit pay reduction (most of the newsroom gets so-called "overscale"), two furlough days a year for the next two years, and a pension freeze. Pension savings is not included in the $1.7 million the Strib will save.

You might also start seeing more new bylines: management gets the right to use additional freelancers.

I don't want to soft-pedal cuts that will hack tens of thousands of dollars from highly trained professionals' salaries and pensions, but on first blush, the deal is better than I expected. Retaining severance makes it tougher (though of course, not impossible) to reduce headcount, and the Guild managed to protect its least senior members by limiting across-the-board wage cuts to the low single digits.

Here's the Guild leadership's memo:

The Guild bargaining committee early this morning reached a tentative agreement with the company on concessions that would prevent a filing to terminate our contract in bankruptcy court.

We recognize these provisions are painful and distasteful. As a committee - and with counsel from our attorney - we believe that we would put members at greater exposure had we not reached an agreement and the company brought the matter to the court.

The principal elements of the tentative agreement are these:

♦ A 3 percent cut across the wage scales.

♦ A 30 percent cut across-the-board in overscale, with a portion to be redistributed at the discretion of management.

♦ A wage freeze that extends to the end of the current contract, July 31, 2011.

♦ A phase-out of night differential in three steps through the end of the contract.

♦ A freeze in Pension Plan G, after Aug. 1. This would allow for one more contribution to the cash-balance plan.

♦ A PTO plan that would include vacation, sick leave and holidays, at a maximum of 33 days per year, plus a bank of 240 hours to use to offset the short-term disability plan.

♦ A two-day furlough in each of the next two years.

♦ Expanded freelance.

♦ A limited right for management to depart from strict seniority and exempt a small number of employees from layoff.

♦ A reduction in severance to a cap of 33 weeks for the duration of the contract, and to 26 weeks thereafter.

There are other provisions in the agreement. In terms of dollar figures, the concession is approximately $1.68 million (excluding pension).

Full details will be released in the next few days. Bargaining took place around the clock and we cannot provide every detail until the tentative agreement is reviewed by The Newspaper Guild in Washington, D.C.

There will be a unit meeting next week, with a secret ballot.

Graydon Royce
David Chanen
Pat Doyle
Janet Moore
Paul Joppa
Ann Wilhelmy

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