No Vote Voids Concessions at Star Tribune

September 12, 2008: Attempts by the Minneapolis Star Tribune to wrest major concessions from three Teamster unions, representing pressmen, drivers and mailers, hit more roadblocks on Thursday.

Teamster officials representing the drivers in Local 638 notified the Star Tribune that a concession plan that members earlier approved was “null and void” because the Teamster pressmen voted down the giveback plan earlier in the week.

Officials for the mailers, represented by Teamsters Local 120, have also reportedly told the company that the concession plan has been voided as a result of the pressmen’s opposition to the deal. The concessionary packages included 10 percent wage cuts, elimination of previously negotiated wage increases, and major givebacks in other aspects of the contract.

The Star Tribune is owned by Avista, a private equity firm, which bought it two years ago. Minnesota’s largest newspaper remains highly profitable, but Avista has had trouble meeting its debt payments and demanded that unions at the newspaper reopen their existing contracts.

While bargaining committees for all the unions at the newspaper had agreed to work with the company to come up with acceptable deals, it appears that Avista became overly greedy. It demanded a level of sacrifice that would drastically reduce the standard of living of workers and seriously undermine the unions. Pressroom members said “no,” and many drivers and mailers now have similar thoughts.

On July 31, the drivers, mailers and pressmen each voted on the concessions demanded by the Star Tribune. At the time, Teamster Joint Council 32 officials said that if any of the three unions rejected the deal it would be dead for all three unions. The mailers and drivers approved the concessions by big margins but the pressmen overwhelmingly voted it down.

Teamster officials then stated that the concessionary package would remain in place for the mailers and drivers. That spurred petition drives by the mailers and drivers. Many said they wanted to join the pressmen in rejecting the original offer.

On Monday, the pressmen voted a second time by 80-29 to reject the concession package. The givebacks were very similar to the ones the Star Tribune demanded earlier.

A memorandum to the drivers was posted Thursday by Robert Moore, Teamster Local 638 business agent, and Mark Rime, the local’s secretary treasurer. It said this:

“As you are probably aware, on Monday, Sept. 8, 2008, the Pressmen of Local 1M rejected the company offer. It is our position with management that the offer voted on by Local 638 members on July 31, 2008 is null and void. The contract that you voted on in November 2007 is in effect and the wages, pension, health and welfare and all working conditions will remain the same.”

The memorandum goes on to state that Teamster officials spoke with Randy Lebedoff, the Star Tribune’s attorney, on Thursday. “At this time, she is not sure what the management at the Star Tribune will do in the future,” the two Teamster officials wrote. “She said she hopes to have some answers in the next few days. At that time, they will contact us and we will relay any correspondence onto the bargaining unit.”

Read related articles about the contract fight at the Star Tribune at the Minnesota Independent and MinnPost.

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