Star-Ledger publisher Richard Vezza says negotiations with the mailers’ union “have fallen far short of the Company’s savings needs” and that by the end of September “there may be a decision to terminate publication of The Star-Ledger at the end of 2013 and lay off all employees.”
Vezza says he’s sending a warning letter to union employees (it’s after the jump) “so that in the event of this sad outcome of our current negotiations with The Ledger’s four production unions, no one can claim surprise or say ‘if I had only known, I would have…'”
The president of the Council of Star-Ledger Unions says the paper and the mailers aren’t close to a deal, but “they are working hard to close the gap. … Nobody wants to see the doors shut, that’s absolutely for sure.”
Read Vezza’s memos after the jump.
TO: Star-Ledger Staff
FROM: Rich Vezza
We mailed a letter that I wrote to all represented Star Ledger employees on Wednesday evening. The letter was an attempt to update the represented employees as to the status of negotiations with its production unions to secure the cost savings necessary to allow the Star-Ledger to continue publishing after the end of this calendar year. Since the facts included in the letter are of equal concern to the unrepresented employees of the Star Ledger, I included a copy of the letter below.
I remain hopeful that a successful resolution will be reached with the production unions that will allow the Star Ledger to continue publishing. I will continue to update you as future developments warrant.
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
Dear Star-Ledger represented employee,
By the end of this month there may be a decision to terminate publication of The Star-Ledger at the end of 2013 and lay off all employees. We are writing this letter so that in the event of this sad outcome of our current negotiations with The Ledger’s four production unions, no one can claim surprise or say “if I had only known, I would have . . . .”
A brief summary of the events of the last eight months is in order. At the end of 2012, The Star-Ledger sought to arrange a meeting with its four production unions: Pressmen; Mailers; Machinists; and Engravers. The meeting was finally held on January 25, 2013. At that meeting it was explained to the assembled that The Star-Ledger, like most newspapers, was the victim of substantial economic decline. Circulation, advertising and revenue had rapidly declined since 2008. In 2011 the net operating loss of the Company was over 12 million dollars, and it exceeded 19 million dollars in 2012. These losses had occurred despite drastically reduced expenses and wage and benefit cuts and layoffs to the non-represented employees.
It was announced that there was an opportunity to save approximately $9 million annually by closing in-house production and packaging and contracting with outside vendors to print and package the newspaper. This could only be done as a product of union negotiations. The newspaper sought to engage in decisional bargaining, offering to keep production in-house if comparable savings could be achieved. Otherwise, the unions were told, transition packages would be negotiated.
By the end of June it had become apparent that the Unions appeared to have little desire for meaningful discussion. Even scheduling meetings was difficult with weeks going by between meetings. In six months, there had been two group meetings and two meetings with each of three individual Unions—a total of eight meetings.
As a result, by letter dated June 25 to the Council of Star-Ledger Unions, a schedule was announced. Until September 27, 2013, negotiations would continue to either authorize subcontracting and resolve all effects of that decision, or reach savings acceptable to the Company to keep production and packaging in-house. If neither alternative was accomplished by September 27, 2013, The Star-Ledger would announce that it was going out of business and the closing would be no later than the end of calendar year 2013. Sixty day WARN notices would be sent out no later than the end of October. Commencing on or about Monday, September 30, The Star-Ledger negotiating team would only be authorized to negotiate the effects of the shut down.
For the last two months there have been negotiations. Unfortunately, the results have been mixed. The Company feels comfortable with the progress made with the Pressmen and believes it is close to a resolution with the Pressmen. Based on discussions with the Machinists, and the Company’s proposed savings in those negotiations, the Company believes that it will be able to reach a resolution with the Machinists. Based on a recent private discussion with the Engravers leadership and the Company’s proposed savings in those negotiations, the Company believes that it will be able to reach a resolution with the Engravers.
However, negotiations with the Mailers, while producing some savings, have fallen far short of the Company’s savings needs under the Mailers’ labor contract. The differences between the Mailers proposed savings and the Company’s proposed savings are so far apart that, while we are still hopeful that an acceptable resolution can be achieved, we have serious doubts that, with less than a month to go, an agreement can be reached. Immediately after a bargaining session that took place on August 20, the Mailers canceled the next bargaining session that was scheduled for August 26, stating that there was nothing to talk about and have refused to set dates for negotiations in September.
The Mailers offers are more than two million dollars less than what is necessary to reach an agreement. Even after the introduction of an International Representative from the Teamsters, there has been no discernible progress to date. We have no further meetings scheduled with the Mailers. Based on comments made at several bargaining sessions by members of the Mailers’ bargaining committee, such as – “go ahead and shut it down” and “we’ll supply the lock”, it appears that they would rather see the Ledger cease publication, rather than provide sufficient savings to keep the newspaper operating and save jobs. This attitude is upsetting as it would appear to foreshadow the closing of the newspaper with all the accompanying job losses. We would urge everyone to use your influence as you see fit but we do not want there to be any misunderstanding as to the consequences of what is at stake. As has been stated several times at bargaining sessions by the Company’s attorney and lead negotiator – after September 27, his only authority will be to discuss shutdown of the newspaper.
Very truly yours,