Avista Demands Cuts at Star Tribune

December 12, 2008: Avista has launched a new assault on the unions at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, demanding the unions agree to the union-busting conditions by early January.

The private equity firm is proposing to slash wages to nonunion levels.

Among those targeted are the three Teamster units at the Star Tribune, but every union is facing cruel demands from the company.

Avista, which bought Minnesota’s largest newspaper nearly two years ago, has indicated to the unions that if they do not agree to the union-breaking terms, it could file for bankruptcy.

While that could be true, newspaper analysts predicted that when Avista purchased the Star Tribune, it would do what other private equity firms do—slash costs and then resell the newspaper at a tidy profit. Some observers speculate that Avista might have a buyer who is waiting in the wings to purchase the newspaper after the company slashes payroll and takes the wrecking ball to the unions.

Star Tribune bosses have told the unions that Avista has been unable to make loan payments to its banks, requiring it to demand new concessions from the unions.

Several unions are on the verge of voting to negotiate with the company.

Solidarity Committee

A Newspaper Workers Rank and File Solidarity Support Committee, formed during the summer to resist the concessions, is campaigning among union members throughout the Star Tribune to promote union solidarity.

Some of the company’s proposals are so horrendous that they would essentially make it a nonunion shop. Further, the company is proposing some drastic cuts that would so weaken the unions that they would be unable to effectively resist even more union-busting demands in the next round, either with Avista or a new employer.

Under the proposal, full-time Teamster newspaper drivers would see their hourly pay cut from $27.19 to $18.50 per hour. That would cut annual pay from $53,700 to $36,500, a 32 percent pay cut. In addition, the full-time drivers would be sharply reduced with the bulk of the work going to low-paid part-timers.

The Pressmen, who are also Teamsters, twice voted to reject concessionary packages in recent months. Under a new proposal from the company, the concessions are even bigger, reducing their numbers and cutting the pay of journeymen by 12 percent.

The Mailers, who are also members of the Teamsters Union, face grim concessionary demands that would see their pay reduced by 42 percent.

The Newspaper Guild, which is affiliated with the Communication Workers of America, agreed to a concessionary three-year contract that took effect Aug. 1, yet Avista has come back again, proposing to freeze pay for all three years, negating a small increase in the second half of the contract. Pensions would be frozen. The company also proposed to eliminate overtime pay for assistant city editors, a significant portion of the work force.

The Newspaper Workers Rank and File Solidarity Support Committee, made up of rank-and-filers from the various newspaper unions, has made clear that it supports every union effort to stand up to Avista.

It is pointing out to workers that the company is pursuing a divide and conquer strategy in which some unions may be getting hit harder than others. “Even if your union is not hammered as hard as another, an injury to one is an injury to all,” the committee says in a flyer being distributed to workers.

The drivers union at the Star Tribune has long been a strong Teamster unit in the Twin Cities. But if the drivers union is beaten by sharply reducing their numbers and wages, then every union at the Star Tribune will suffer.

“In the end, we will all be busted,” the flyer from the committee states. “We need union solidarity.”

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