The largest union at Philadelphia’s two biggest newspapers has reached a tentative agreement with management on non-economic issues of a contract after a second day of marathon negotiations, union officials said early Monday.
One of the key non-economic issues for the Guild was protecting seniority in the event of layoffs, and the agreement, pending approval of union members, meets that goal.
“Seniority has been preserved,” said Stu Bykofsky, spokesman for The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. “That was a huge obstacle.”
A call to Philadelphia Media Holdings spokesman Jay Devine was not immediately returned on Monday.
Henry Holcomb, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, cautioned that critical economic issues, including management’s proposal to freeze pensions, remain unresolved.
“It’s hard, detailed work, and a lot has been done,” Holcomb said.
The sides met for 12 hours, ending talks at 12:40 a.m. Monday, after a 14-hour session Saturday in which both sides reported some progress.
“In the 12-hour session on Sunday, I feel comfortable characterizing that as a breakthrough, because they did reach resolution of one of the two huge issues and that was seniority,” Bykofsky said.
“We can’t say quite that this is the beginning of the end, to paraphrase Mr. Churchill, but it is the end of the beginning.”
The company said it might not be able to meet with the Guild until Wednesday because it plans to meet with the other unions. Holcomb said he will press to meet with the company earlier.
“I’m not going to be relieved until we get a complete agreement and get the members to ratify it,” Holcomb said.
Daily News Editor Michael Days and Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow took part in some of the meetings Sunday.
Bykofsky said union members hoped to avert a strike, but plans are in place if talks reach an impasse. Those plans include a news Web site, PhilaPapers.com, which would compete with the company-owned Philly.com.
The Guild represents more than 900 editorial, advertising, circulation and clerical workers at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. The last strike at the newspapers, in 1985, lasted 46 days.
The Guild’s contract expired after midnight Thursday but it held off a threatened walkout after the union and management reported progress. Nine other unions still negotiating said they wanted to avoid what they believe would be a damaging strike.
Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, a group of local investors that bought the Knight Ridder newspapers in June, is seeking contract concessions and up to 150 newsroom job cuts amid sharp declines in advertising revenue and circulation.