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Star union voting on new contract

August 25, 2009

The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild plans to vote this afternoon on a new, two-year contract with the Gannett Co.-owned Indianapolis Star that includes a 10-percent pay cut and two-year wage freeze.

If ratified, the agreement covering 185 employees represented by the union would take effect Aug. 30. Guild President Tom Spalding declined this morning to predict the vote’s outcome, but he said the proposal is better than previous offers.

“We feel this is the best deal we could get from Gannett,” he said. “It’s the one that has the least amount of damage.”

With the assistance of a federal mediator, the guild’s leadership reached an agreement with representatives of Virginia-based Gannett and the Star on Aug. 7 to take the proposal to membership for a vote.

Gannett had sought a 12-percent pay cut—an offer that union members overwhelmingly rejected in late June.

Approval of today’s contract proposal also would settle a dispute involving seven of 18 union members who were let go in December. The guild contends the company disregarded seniority rights and is seeking their reinstatement, with back pay.

An arbitration hearing is set for Sept. 23. But ratification of the contract would settle the arbitration claim and prevent the employees from returning, Spalding said.

The Star laid off 37 more employees in July as the state’s largest daily newspaper continued to struggle with a weakened economy and falling advertising revenue.

Seventeen of those let go were in the newsroom, including seven editors, which constituted one-fourth of the editorial management team.

The most recent layoffs at the Star were part of massive reductions across all Gannett properties, including 85 daily newspapers, most notably USA Today. The company shed 1,400 jobs, or about 3 percent of its total work force.

Union leaders are hopeful that agreeing to a pay cut will stave off additional job cuts.

“If the vote is favorable, we feel that having a contract, even a weakened contract, is better than the alternative of paying severance when [there are] layoffs,” Spalding said.

Voting on the Star contract began today at noon and lasts until 6 p.m.

Star management did not return phone calls seeking comment.
 

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