Will Busting Boston Herald Unions Bust the Herald?

For starters, the sadreading staff applauds the Boston Herald editors in general – and reporter Brian Dowling in particular – for birddogging the twists and turns of the shaky local tabloid’s attempt to sell itself to the highest bidder.

The latest drama began last Friday with this piece on the standoff between Herald union members and prospective buyers.

Unions fight Herald’s motion to kill contracts

Lawyers for the Herald’s unions are slamming the company’s bankruptcy plan to dissolve its collective bargaining agreements, claiming the newspaper didn’t negotiate in good faith and issuing a warning the move could spark a strike.

Teamsters Local 25 and the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston Local 31032 filed objections yesterday to the Herald’s motion to dismiss the union contracts as the newspaper’s bankruptcy case grinds on in Delaware.

The unions want “the fate of the union contracts [to] be decided after the bankruptcy auction and all potential buyers have emerged.”

Nuts to you graf:

“Employees may be left with no choice but to exercise their right to strike,” lawyers for the Newspaper Guild wrote, highlighting the unrest would only worsen the paper’s finances.

Yesterday’s edition of the Herald featured management’s response to the union’s call to action.

Herald says labor pacts must go or paper goes under

The Herald is firing back at union objections to its bankruptcy plan by arguing that if costly labor contracts aren’t axed, buyers will disappear and the newspaper will go under — leaving the paper’s creditors to sell off furniture, computers and other hard assets to recoup little of what they’re owed.

The newspaper, bankrupt since Dec. 8, said it has only attracted suitors for a Feb. 13 auction whose bids are contingent on having the collective bargaining agreements tossed.

“The only other outcome will be a fire-sale liquidation in which all jobs are lost and all creditors receive a fraction of the value currently expected,” the Herald’s lawyers wrote in a filing.

But . . .

Today’s edition of the Herald suggests there’s been a detente.

“The Herald and most of its unions have struck a deal over the company’s contentious plan to dissolve labor contracts that had sparked an exchange of strike threats and dire warnings that the newspaper could be forced to close its doors for good.

“The agreement filed today in U.S. bankruptcy court in Delaware cools tensions as the Communication Workers of America’s News Guild of Greater Boston — representing newsroom and commercial employees — agreed to back off its opposition to the newspaper’s plan to reject their collective bargaining agreements.”

It’s kinda complicated, so you should read the whole piece.  But this Jon Chesto item in today’s Boston Globe has the bottom line: “As part of the agreement with the unions, the successful bidder will make job offers to at least 175 Herald employees and recognize their vacation and severance rights.”

Here’s what hasn’t changed: “Newspaper giant GateHouse Media offered $5 million for the paper, and Los Angeles-based Revolution Media Group offered $5.75 million.”

Except it’s not that cut-and-dried, as our kissin’ cousins at Two Daily Town noted recently.

Revolution is offering $3 million cash for the company, agreeing to honor $750,000 of paid time off for employees who join the company, and is pledging to pay out $2 million in severance.

Crosstown at the Boston Globe, Jon Chesto reminds us what the deal is with GateHouse.

“GateHouse proposed paying $4.5 million in cash, as well as at least $500,000 in assumed liabilities, including paid time off owed to employees.”

Unless our math skills fail us, that means Herald owner Pat Purcell gets $1.5 million less from a sale to Revolution, while employees at the shaky local tabloid get $2.25 million more.

Whichever one gets the paper is now required “to bargain with [the] unions as soon as possible after the closing of the sale.”

Yes well, “bargain” don’t mean agree. Let’s just hope it’s only the sale that closes.

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