Drivers vote down latest contract offer from Philadelphia newspapers

Posted: September 13, 2010

Daily News and Inquirer drivers who rejected their latest contract offer from the papers' new owners yesterday don't want "hedge-fund investors" telling them how to plan for the future, their union president said.

But the 191 members of Teamsters Local 628 who voted down a contract with Philadelphia Media Network Inc. for the second time have now jeopardized the entire future of the two dailies, said Greg Osberg, Philadelphia Media's chief executive officer.

"We believe it's put the company at risk," Osberg said last night.

It's unclear whether any progress can be made by noon tomorrow - the second deadline set by a federal judge to give the unions more time to negotiate deals that would finalize the long-awaited sale of the papers and their website, Philly.com.

Osberg said the newspapers could run out of cash in the fall and that inevitable court hearings over the latest impasse will only make the problem worse. He said Philadelphia Media Network - investors tied to the papers' creditors who won an auction to buy the bankrupted newspapers in April - remains committed to the purchase, despite yesterday's vote.

"We do not plan on walking away," he said.

Teamsters Local 628 President John Laigaie said the stumbling block at yesterday's 191-4 vote was most likely the move from a defined pension to a 401(k) plan. He added there's also an overall feeling that the 16 financial institutions buying the papers for $139 million have underappreciated past sacrifices by his members.

"We don't need arrogant, Wall Street investment types telling us, the working class, how to invest for our futures," he said.

The union rejected a contract offer last month with a 182-3 vote. Earlier yesterday, the union representing machinists voted 28-4 to accept a contract offer, leaving the Teamsters the last unsigned union.

Laigaie said he had "no idea" how the two sides can come to terms.

"I guess we'll know in the next couple of days," he said.

Osberg said the union members have been given two options: a jointly administered, defined contribution plan or a 3 percent match of individual 401(k) contributions. Both plans, Osberg contends, assure that employees "are made whole or come out better."

"We feel we have filled our obligation to put together a plan to provide the future stability of the union employees of the company," he said.

Reporters, photographers and other members of the local Newspaper Guild agreed last month to concessions that include a 2 percent wage cut and two weeks of unpaid furlough in each year of the three-year contract.

They had lost company pension contributions several years ago. In return, the new owners pledged to avoid newsroom layoffs for at least a year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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