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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lee Enterprises Throws Down the Gauntlet. Will The P-D Union Concede?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2010 at 9:20 AM

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The union that represents St. Louis Post-Dispatch employees has hired a pair of flacks who ran PR for the POTUS' '08 campaign in anticipation of a public fight with the paper's owner. 

Contract talks between the St. Louis Newspaper Guild and Lee Enterprises broke down last week. And on Tuesday, the Iowa-based owner of the P-D submitted its final offer to the union. Lee wants P-D staffers to submit to a long list of concessions. But after April 1, if the offer hasn't been accepted, Lee is free to lay off.

According to the Guild website, Lee wants a 6% pay cut for each union employee in each of the next three years, plus varying rates of pay cuts in the three years to follow depending on company revenues and ending in 2015. 

Lee also wants to eliminate retiree medical benefits and life insurance and drop its 401K match to $75. (It's unclear if that's an annual amount or per pay period.) 

Lee would quasi-preserve "seniority" -- the right of longer-tenured workers not to be laid off before newer hires. That is, the company would be allowed to exempt up to 20 newsroom employees from seniority rules during any given round of layoffs.

Lee vows not to pink-slip anyone for six months, provided the contract is approved by April 1.

Last month, the Guild freed up $500,000 to wage a hard-core media blitz against Lee. The union has now hired Revolution Messaging, a firm launched by a pair of PR execs who ran the social media campaign in Barack Obama's presidential run. 

The union has set an up-or-down vote on the contract for March 27. If it fails to pass, the media blitz would begin.

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