By: Joe Strupp
An eleventh-hour meeting between management at The Jersey Journal of Jersey City, N.J., and the union representing the paper’s truck drivers was set for 6 p.m. Friday, according to union leaders who still held out hope that the last-minute talks could keep the struggling 135-year-old daily going.
Just yesterday, Publisher Scott Ring said that the paper would publish its last edition on Saturday because talks with the drivers’ union over management requests for layoffs had stalled. But, after meeting Thursday night, both sides said the paper could still survive and scheduled talks for Friday night.
“We’re not looking at walking away from the paper,” said Tom Benventa, a business agent for the Newspaper and Mail Deliverers Union (NMDU), which represents 18 drivers at the newspaper. “As long as you’re at the table, you have got to be optimistic.”
On Jan. 2, the Journal asked each of its three unions to agree to layoffs of about half of all unionized workers to keep the paper in business. Advance Publications, which owns the 43,876-daily-circulation paper, requested the cutbacks to offset continued losses, most of which stem from the depressed advertising market and a steep circulation decline.
The paper had set a Feb. 2 deadline, announcing that the last paper would be published on that date if all of the unions did not agree to the reductions.
Local 153 of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), which represents 42 clerical workers at the paper, agreed last week to cut 18 of its workers, while Local 42 of the Newspaper Guild voted, 28-1, Thursday night to allow the layoffs of 17 full-timers and three part-timers. The Guild represents 39 Journal employees.
NMDU officials, however, had yet to agree with the Journal‘s request that nine of its drivers be laid off. Several union and newspaper officials said talks with NMDU broke down Thursday, prompting the newspaper to issue a letter to the other unions announcing the likely closing of the paper after Saturday’s edition. But that changed Friday when word of renewed talks spread through the newsroom.
“I’m hopeful,” said Nancy Jester, Local 153 shop steward, who gathered with other workers Friday outside the paper’s downtown building. “I think we are close to an agreement and it will happen.”
Other workers, such as Sheila Hartrum, an accounting clerk and eight-year Journal employee, shared the optimism. “I have to hold out hope while talks are good,” she said.
Union leaders also looked positively at the extended talks. “Any movement at the negotiating table pleases us,” said Christina Joseph, Guild Local 42 vice president. “But we have to wait and see.”
The Guild and OPEIU urged the drivers to approve the layoff plan last Saturday with a paid ad in the Journal asking the drivers’ union to come to an agreement so the paper could remain open. “Now the newspaper’s survival has come down to you,” the ad read in part. “We’ve made the sometimes painful concessions asked of us. We’re asking you to do the same. It’s all up to you.”
One of the sticking points in the labor talks has been that each union employee slated for layoffs had to agree with the plan, not just a majority of the union membership. That stipulation made approval difficult, union leaders said.
Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who represents the district that includes Jersey City, said he had urged both sides to negotiate. “I spoke to the publisher again today and he reiterated that they had to have an agreement today and ratification by Sunday in order for the paper to continue,” he told E&P.