Strib bankruptcy prelude: more labor cuts

As the Strib steams toward a possible January bankruptcy, all eyes are on the unions. Management says they’re the only groups that can forestall court-ordered restructuring.

The newsroom’s Newspaper Guild met Thursday afternoon and “overwhelmingly” voted to continue discussions with management, Guild leader David Chanen says.

Given the depths of the cuts, which include pension freezes, merit-pay cuts and 25 buyouts, Guild members could’ve broken off talks and — assuming management is serious about its threat — made bankruptcy a fait accompli.

Despite the yes vote, Chanen adds, “There was lots of healthy debate and much skepticism” about dealing with whomever is calling the shots at the Strib right now.

Newsroom management cuts are expected to be announced Monday.

Meanwhile, there are more details about what the three Teamster locals would absorb.

I previously reported that the Strib’s drivers were presented a 32-percent wage cut, from $27.19 to $18.50 an hour. The full-time driver count “would be sharply reduced with the bulk of the work going to low-paid part-timers,” the site tdu.org reports. The paper’s mailers would take a whopping 42 percent whacking.

The pressmen — who alone among Strib unions rejected summertime concessions — would see a 12 percent reduction. TDU says more press workers would lose more jobs; there were 19 layoffs after this summer’s rejection.

Despite that, the three Teamster locals, like the Guild, are still talking to management. But discussion doesn’t imply agreement, and so far this year, the Teamsters have been less fearful of bankruptcy than their newsroom colleagues.

A couple of other details:

I reported earlier that the paper’s senior creditors were willing to turn half of their $400 million Strib IOUs into ownership if the labor cuts happen. The actual figure is closer to two-thirds. That would leave the Strib roughly $133 million in debt, which is probably still more than anyone who buys from the creditors would want to pay off.

Avista Capital Partners paid $530 million for the paper in early 2007. They would be out if the creditors swap debt for equity.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Dave Kopesky on 12/12/2008 - 03:24 pm.

    At what point are workers better just to let bankruptcy occur and let the chips fall where they may? It seems hard to imagine they would come out worse through bankruptcy. I guess the biggest negative is management may make draconian staffing cuts before filing.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/12/2008 - 05:56 pm.

    Just heard that the Detroit newspapers are cutting back to three days a week delivery, telling readers to buy it at a news stand or read it on the Web for the rest of the week.

    This would eliminate almost all full time drivers (the only ones left would be delivering bundles to news stands).

    And bankruptcy could result in liquidation of the company completely (no jobs for anyone). Even if it didn’t, it could eliminate all company support for things like pension funds.

    Yes, it could be worse.

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