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Strib, newsroom union strike tentative three-year deal

Tonight, the Star Tribune web site announced a tentative three-year agreement with its newsroom union. The existing contract expires July 31, and management gave the union until today to work something out while company-paid mediators were involved.

I’ve only been able to ferret out a few details; Guild leadership is playing this close to the vest because they want to control how members hear about a deal with $2.5 million in cuts demanded by publisher/co-owner Chris Harte. I’ll update this item as provisions emerge.

How will this reshape the state’s biggest newsroom? There will be at least six fewer positions; management agreed to six buyouts that the union had originally sought. These could cover a handful of veterans who wished they’d taken last year’s cash-to-dash. Don’t assume those are all reporters, editors and photographers; they can also include support staff.

The union had also asked for layoff protection; no word whether what can only be characterized as a hope was realized. Without layoff prohibitions — which the Pioneer Press staff has until Dec. 31 — management can reduce headcount at any time, regardless of the new deal. That’s a privilege they now have, though seniority all but determines who gets whacked.

The three-year term is shorter than the current five-year deal, but that’s become the norm in the tumultuous media landscape. Frankly, labor is betting Strib owner Avista Capital Partners will be long gone by then (though who knows what will replace them?).

The contract has no “reopener” clause. Management wanted that power if upcoming health care negotiations with a multi-union Strib bargaining council fail.

The Newspaper Guild has agreed to a wage freeze, but not for deal’s entire term.

How will guild membership vote? It’s a bitter pill, but one for which leadership has long prepped the troops. The union is giving members a week — until July 23 — to digest the deal. The current contract expires the eight days later, but its terms are extended as long as both sides negotiate in good faith. (Note: the original piece incorrectly said the vote was July 30.)

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