Inquirer union repeats vow to stay neutral

Posted: November 06, 2013

Leaders of the largest employee union at The Inquirer on Monday declared they would stay neutral in the fight for control of the newspaper's parent company, despite fresh lobbying from co-owner George E. Norcross III.

After meeting with him for nearly two hours, the executive board of the Newspaper Guild rebuffed Norcross' request that it back his effort to persuade co-owners Lewis Katz and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest to sell their 42 percent stake in Interstate General Media.

"In this case, neutrality is a sign of leadership," union president Howard Gensler and executive director Bill Ross said in a statement. "The Guild tried to broker peace between the warring parties, at their request, but was rebuffed. Now the situation seems headed to court as more money gets wasted on lawyers. It needs to end."

The meeting was the latest development in the nearly monthlong battle for control among the six partners who bought the newspaper and formed IGM last year.

Participants at the Guild meeting, who asked not to be identified discussing the private talks, said Norcross argued that he was the most involved in running the company and had a better business plan than Katz and Lenfest.

Norcross also told the leaders he would take his case to rank-and-file members of the union, which represents the newsrooms of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, as well as to advertising, finance, and circulation employees, the attendees said. He hoped their public backing would pressure the minority partners to give up, they said.

Katz and Lenfest praised the Guild leaders for resisting the pitch.

"These latest, inappropriate lobbying and bullying efforts by Mr. Norcross are just one more example of his repeated attempts to interfere and not let journalists be journalists," they said in a statement.

Katz and Lenfest, too, have met with Guild leadership - on Oct. 16, the same day Norcross first presented his case to the union.

"Mr. Norcross met with the Guild leadership today to discuss a plan for continuing the progress the company has made - from losing almost $50,000 a day to being on the path to profitability," spokesman Dan Fee said, "and asked them to help him put an end to the litigation."

Katz and Norcross are co-managing partners of the company, with equal authority over business decisions. In dueling lawsuits, the two have accused each other of violating their partnership agreement by meddling in newsroom operations.

Earlier on Monday, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Patricia A. McInerney met for a half hour behind closed doors with lawyers preparing to argue the case that Katz and Lenfest brought against Norcross, Inquirer publisher Robert J. Hall, and the majority partners of IGM.

After 30 minutes of talks, McInerney announced plans for back-to-back hearings on Nov. 13 on the lawsuit, which seeks to reinstate fired Inquirer editor William K. Marimow.

The first hearing will address a procedural challenge to the request for a preliminary injunction to reinstate Marimow. The second will deal with the injunction request itself, if she rules the case should proceed.

Both sides must file their witness lists by Wednesday, McInerney said.


tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718

@tomfitzgerald

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