Pension questions put newspaper union contracts on hold

Posted: July 15, 2010

The new owners of The Inquirer have decided to hold off finalizing any pending union contracts until they can determine what, if anything, they might owe in pension liabilities.

Of concern are expected claims by a number of employee pension funds for a portion of fund shortfalls that will be triggered by the new owners' withdrawal from those funds, an action already approved in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. It has been estimated that the shortfalls could be in excess of $174 million.

Philadelphia Newspapers L.L.C., the parent of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and, was sold at auction in April to a collection of 16 financial institutions that were among its senior lenders.

The new owners, who plan to rename the company Philadelphia Media Network Inc., declined to take responsibility for any of the existing employee pension funds going forward.

A number of the pension funds unsuccessfully opposed U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stephen Raslavich's confirmation of the company's reorganization over the issue. The Teamsters' pension fund has appealed the plan's confirmation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

At the same time, the Teamsters fund has indicated it planned to file about $1.6 million in administrative claims related to the pension fund with Raslavich. Those claims are due by Aug. 2.

Fred S. Hodara, lead attorney for the new owners, said other company unions have indicated they intended to do the same, creating a situation where the new owners could face millions of dollars in unplanned expenses before the company can come out of bankruptcy.

Hodara said the new owners would oppose the pension claims' being paid as administrative expenses.

In the meantime, they will continue to negotiate new contracts with the unions, but stop short of finalizing those contracts until the new owners are certain of their liabilities, according to Gregory Osberg, president and chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media Network.

Contact staff writer Christopher K. Hepp at 215-854-2208 or