By: Joe Strupp
A week after he officially took over as editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, William Marimow’s initial impact on the paper may have been more visible at the negotiating table than the front page.
Newspaper Guild leaders, who were in lengthy bargaining sessions with management over the weekend, credit Marimow and Philadelphia Daily News Editor Michael Days with helping to resolve a key issue during Sunday’s session, noting their ability to bridge the gap between the two sides.
“They are part of management, but both of them have come through the guild,” said Stu Bykofsky, a spokesman for the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents 900 workers at both papers. “They understand the people involved and the issues involved.”
Guild president Henry Holcomb, who participated in a 14-hour bargaining session on Saturday and a 12-hour meeting on Sunday, also praised the editors for their part in the Sunday meeting. He said they helped to get both sides together on the disputed issue of seniority, which ended with a compromise.
“The company had wanted to change the layoff procedure dramatically and with [the editors’] help we were able to reach a compromise,” said Holcomb, who declined to reveal specifics. “They were able to pinpoint what they actually needed which always makes it easier.”
Marimow, a former Inquirer reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner at the paper, recently rejoined the daily and formally replaced outgoing editor Amanda Bennett last week. He declined to comment on the negotiations or his involvement, but has said that the paper should expect some “painful” cuts.
Days, a veteran of the Daily News, also declined to comment, referring calls to Jay Devine, a spokesman for Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns both papers. Devine also could not be immediately reached.
The editors’ involvement in the negotiations, which union leaders said occurred at the request of management, came just days after the guild’s last contract extension expired on Nov. 30. The union has voted to authorize a strike and had been planning to walk out as recently as Thursday night, but delayed any action while talks continue.
Bykofsky said no negotiations were planned until Wednesday so that the management negotiators can meet with the paper’s nine other unions, which are also working without contracts. Holcomb said a bargaining session could be held tonight, but had no formal information on it.
Along with the seniority issue, the two sides are also at odds over management’s request to change sick time procedures and cap the union’s pension fund. The negotiators have yet to discuss wage and salary provisions, union leaders said. Holcomb did not believe that the editors would be involved in any future negotiations, but said having such department supervisors at talks is often a positive move.
“We always prefer to have operating people from each department there when we are talking details,” Holcomb said. But the union leaders stressed that they still have a long way to go in contract talks and that a strike is still possible.
“Anytime you resolve part of a dispute, you have made progress,” Holcomb said. “But it remains to be seen if the company is wiling to compromise on the pension issue.”