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Friday, December 11, 2009

Newspaper Retirees Planning to Protest Post-Dispatch

Posted By on Fri, Dec 11, 2009 at 7:33 AM

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Post-Dispatch retirees say it's only appropriate that they received news December 7 -- Pearl Harbor Day -- that their former employer planned to stop reimbursing their medical coverage.

"A great day for a sneak attack," says one member of the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, who tells Daily RFT that phones at the union's office have been "ringing off the hooks" since Monday's announcement.

The cuts for retirees come as the paper's owner, Lee Enterprises tries to stop the financial bleeding its incurred since its 2005 purchase of the Post-Dispatch and its then publisher, Pulitzer Inc., for $1.5 billion.

Guild president Jeff Gordon (a sports columnist for the Post-Dispatch) tells Daily RFT that the the union has been battling Lee since last January when retirees -- who believed they were granted full medical coverage for life -- were informed they'd have to pay a 30 percent premium for their medical costs.

Now Lee wants to eliminate any medical reimbursements for guild members who retired between 1994 and 2004 (prior to Lee purchasing the Post-Dispatch).

The newspaper recently made a similar move when it quit paying medical reimbursements to retired managers -- who aren't members of the guild.

Gordon says the fear now is that Lee will also attempt to discontinue medical coverage to the dozens of people who retired or took buy-outs after the 2005 acquisition. As many as 100 guild members who retired between '94 and '04 would immediately be affected by the change in medical coverage.

The guild is now organizing a protest to be held outside the Post-Dispatch building on Tuesday morning (Dec. 15 at 10 a.m.).

"This is really bringing together all retirees -- guild members and management," says Gordon. "It's a true retiree movement." 

In other news, the guild is also in negotiations with Lee over cell phones. The newspaper publisher wants to stop providing reporters with cell phones and instead reimburse them $30 a month for using their personal cell phones for work-related matters.

The problem with that, says Gordon, is that many reporters don't want to hand out their personal cell numbers to sources -- especially those on investigative beats. There's also the issue of price. Subscription for smart phones costs way more than $30 a month and if reporters are encouraged to Tweet and report remotely, the publisher needs to up its ante.

The guild wants reporters reimbursed at least $50 a month for use of their personal cell  phones.

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