September 19, 2008: Teamster pressmen at the Minneapolis Star Tribune have voted down concessions for a second time this year, voiding concessions for two other Teamster locals at the newspaper.
As Convoy goes to press on Sept. 18, the Star Tribune has laid off 19 pressmen and seven other employees, even though Minnesota’s largest newspaper remains highly profitable.
When union members rejected the concessions, they knew that some layoffs were a distinct possibility.
On Sept. 10, pressmen in GCC Local 1-M voted down a proposed contract that would have cut wages by 16 percent over the life of the deal and forced major takebacks.
“The company is asking us to slash our own throats to save their profits,” said Kevin Bialon, a union negotiator who has been a pressman for 27 years in an interview in early September. “In return, they were giving us empty promises about a possible future. There were no guarantees that there wouldn’t be future cuts.”
The vote to reject the contract was 80 to 29.
Concessions Voided for Other Teamsters
There are two other Teamster locals at the Star Tribune—the drivers in Local 638 and the mailers in Local 120. Members in those two locals voted by wide margins to approve major concessions in July, but significant opposition developed and many members signed petitions and sought a revote.
Local 638 and 120 officials then notified the Star Tribune that a concession plan that members had approved earlier was “null and void” because the Teamster pressmen voted down the giveback plan.
The concessionary packages included 10 percent wage cuts, elimination of previously negotiated wage increases, and major givebacks in other aspects of the contract.
Troubled Time for Avista?
The Star Tribune is owned by Avista, a private equity firm, which bought it two years ago. Avista has had trouble meeting its debt payments and demanded that unions at the newspaper reopen their existing contracts.
There have been hints that the company might seek bankruptcy, but Avista has denied rumors publicly. Avista couldn’t get the sacrifice they wanted through concessions. So now they’ve turned to laying off pressmen.
Members at the Star Tribune have shown that they are willing to find a solution that protects Teamster jobs and helps the company solve its problems.
Bargaining committees for all the unions at the newspaper had agreed to work with the company to come up with acceptable deals. It appears Avista has become overly greedy.