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June 03, 2015

Union representing Inquirer, Daily News and workers authorizes strike

Issues over seniority and health care at center of management, union divide

Members of the union representing newsroom employees at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and on Wednesday night authorized its leadership to prepare for a strike, according to The Inquirer.

The vote by members of the the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia was 263-19 in the main unit and 24-7 in the unit to authorize union management to plan for a strike by the company's 445 employees, the newspaper reported. The voting was held at the Loews Hotel in Center City.

The union hopes the vote "sends an important message to the company that we are not fooling around," said Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild, told the Inquirer.

According to the blog, much of the talk Wednesday night was about H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the owner of the company:

"The real question is, is Gerry aware of what's going on," asked Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. Ross said he was amazed that "such a great philanthropist as Gerry would allow things to get to this point."

Thirty-five negotiating sessions over a seven-month period have proved fruitless to avoid the vote authorizing a strike on June 27, the day the Guild's current contract expires, reported:

If there's a newspaper strike, "It's part of his legacy," said Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild said about Lenfest. "If they [the newspapers] fail on his his watch that certainly doesn't jive with all the great things that he's done."

Healthcare costs, seniority and the pay scale of employees are at issue, according to union memos.

“When the healthcare fund runs out of money within the next year, with the Company’s present $500,000 proposal … It will be the biggest pay cut the members at this company have ever gotten,” according to a recent memo from the union, which said the move could cost employees thousands a year.

The union wants to move workers, currently under a separate contract, into the main bargaining unit, which would provide them with higher salaries and seniority protections. In addition, the union wants a continuation of the seniority policies that govern buyouts and layoffs where, in general, newly-hired employees are the ones to be let go first.

The company has said they want a deal and have been negotiating in good faith.

“We are working hard to avoid a strike, as we do not believe that a strike will be beneficial for any of us, either in the short term or the long term,” said a memo from Keith Black, vice president of human resources for the newspapers' parent company, Philadelphia Media Network, according to

“We are trying very hard to create a business model that is economically sustainable and which provides us with the flexibility to overcome the obstacles and seize the opportunities that we continue to face in this increasingly challenging industry,” the memo continued.

Management also laid out the consequences of voting for a strike, which included a pay stoppage and an end to the company’s healthcare contributions to union members, possibly forcing employees to pay for their own care.

The newspapers have been on strike before. One strike in 1958 lasted 38 days, according to a history of the organization. There were several more between 1970 and 1985 when, “there were 11 strikes of varying lengths; the longest, in 1985, lasted 46 days.”

The company has said that a paper will still be published even if a strike is declared.

Over the last decade, there have been few strikes at newspapers in part because the business has suffered a precipitous financial decline. Print circulation numbers and the corresponding ad revenues attached to them fell sharply over that period. Major newspapers have cut staff through rounds of buyouts and layoffs.