The financial pain punishing Twin Cities newspapers struck deeper into the St. Paul Pioneer Press Wednesday when management met with newsroom union leaders to ask for $2.4 million in annual cuts -- or else.
The company said it wants a pay freeze, a freeze of pay increases tied to years of experience, a freeze in the company's 401(k) match, the elimination of extra pay for night shifts, the elimination of merit pay, and a cut to base wages, said Dave Orrick, a unit officer with the Newspaper Guild, which has about 300 members at the Pioneer Press, including 138 in the newsroom.
Thom Fladung, the paper's editor, made it clear that if some accommodation isn't reached, it would mean fewer jobs in the newsroom, Orrick said. He said Fladung didn't put a figure on the threatened cuts.
However, it's not hard to do the math. With newsroom employees costing an average of about $80,000 with benefits, it could mean 20 to 30 jobs. That's 14 to 22 percent of the already depleted newsroom.
Fladung declined to comment Wednesday night.
Orrick said after meeting with Guild leadership, Fladung held a 5 p.m. staff meeting in the newsroom and spoke in broad terms about the savings the company is seeking. He said the requested cuts would apply across the Guild membership, "but if we don't take that, the cuts would come straight from the newsroom," Orrick said.
The Guild's contract with the company expires July 31, 2011. Members have been expecting a raise to take effect July 1.
"As yet, there are no negotiations," Orrick said. "Our position is, we've heard what the company wants, we've asked for some more information, and when we get the information we will call a membership meeting to discuss the next steps."
Fladung said he'd be instituting cuts for independent employees in the newsroom as well, Orrick said, though Fladung didn't put a figure on those cuts.
"The idea that the newsroom would have to bear the brunt of any cuts is disappointing but not entirely surprising given the trend throughout the newspaper industry," Orrick said. "But we want to make sure that the burden of keeping this paper afloat is shared throughout the company, whatever course we may end up taking."
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493