PiPress Deal Beats a Poke in the Eye with a Sharp Stick — Barely

The tentative deal between the Pioneer Press’s newspaper guild and Dean Singleton’s MediaNews doesn’t look so hot at first glance — the guild agreed to a pension freeze, a one-time vacation concession and significant changes to its medical and disability plans in return for a paltry two to three percent raise. [The entire agreement is detailed in the previous post].

Still, unit chairman and bargaining committee member Alex Friedrich said Thursday, “We’re feeling relief that it wasn’t worse.”

Expectations were extremely low when Singleton’s people started throwing out all kinds of shitty ideas during negotiations. Among them: Imposing a two-tier wage scale, reducing mileage reimbursement from 45 to 35 cents, and taking team leaders out of guild coverage.

“There were more than a dozen things like that,” Friedrich said. “So these [concessions], although really big hits, were not as bad as the entire package could have been. I’m not about to say it’s a great deal. But considering what could have happened during a long-drawn out negotiating period, it’s the best thing we could have gotten under the circumstances.”

Friedrich was proud that the Guild didn’t accept management’s health care proposal: “We came up with a compromise medical insurance plan that had not been proposed.”

The Guild also got management to agree to look “into a wide range of issues and complaints that have been bubbling in the advertising section.”

[A lot of those problems arose following then-publisher Par Ridder’s detrimental reorganization of the department shortly before he bailed out of St. Paul to move across the river and inflict more “right-sizing” at the Star Tribune.]

The full Guild will discuss and vote on the new contract late next week and Friedrich acknowledged that “there are going to be a number of people who are really upset with these large concessions–I’ll admit that some of our veterans are going to be peeved.”

Of course, there aren’t as many veterans to be peeved as before, since so many of them have already exited on one of the paper’s many buyout offers.

So why did Singleton pull back from what many expected to be a complete pulverization of the PiPress guild (much like what Avista has planned for the coming Strib’s guild contract negotiations)?

Friedrich was circumspect. “I can only offer my opinion, but anyone who’s been paying attention to [Singleton’s] own filing reports on Standard and Poor’s could question his situation regarding the amount of debt that MediaNews has taken on.”

I still smell a Joint Operating Agreement brewing in the two papers’ futures.