Publisher: ‘Jersey Journal’ Will Close

By: Joe Strupp

Updated at 10:50 a.m. EST, Feb. 1

The Jersey Journal, the only daily newspaper in Jersey City, N.J., will cease publication after Saturday’s issue, Publisher Scott Ring announced Thursday in a statement.

Ring blamed the closing on the union representing the paper’s truck drivers, which failed to reach an agreement for layoffs that had been requested by management.

But the Associated Press reported Friday morning that discussions are taking place with the union representing newspaper deliverers — the only union that has not agreed to staff cuts that the company says are needed to keep publishing.

Lawyers for the two sides met Thursday and planned to meet again Friday. “It is a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement that would allow the Jersey Journal to continue to publish,” Editor in Chief Steven Newhouse said.

The deadline for reaching a deal is Friday night, he said.

The Newspaper and Mail Deliverers’ Union (NMDU), which represents 18 drivers at the newspaper, was the last of the paper’s three bargaining units to begin negotiations with management when it started talks Wednesday.

The Advance Publications paper had asked each union on Jan. 2 to agree to layoffs of about half of all unionized workers to keep the 135-year-old paper publishing. Advance requested the cutbacks at the 43,411-daily-circulation paper to offset continued losses, mostly stemming from the poor advertising market and a decline in circulation.

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 planned to vote Thursday night on whether 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 sources said talks with NMDU broke down Thursday, prompting the newspaper to send letters to the other two unions announcing the likely closing of the paper after Saturday’s issue.

“We just couldn’t come to an agreement,” NMDU President Ron O’Keefe told E&P on Thursday without providing specifics. “There is a lot involved.” He downplayed speculation that the drivers’ union did not want to agree to layoffs because it might set a precedent for similar cutbacks at a larger Advance sibling, The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.

But O’Keefe stressed that an agreement could still occur if both sides meet again before management’s Friday deadline. “Our goal is still not to close the paper,” he added. “There is still time until the week’s end.”

Other union leaders, however, did not share his view. “We’re done,” said Ron Leir, president of Local 42 of the Guild. “I expected that things would turn out this way. I didn’t hold out much hope that they would reach agreement with the drivers.” Pat Hoffman, an OPEIU business agent expressed similar doubts.

OPEIU placed a paid ad in the Journal‘s Jan. 26 issue 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.”

No more negotiations between management and the NMDU had been scheduled as of Thursday afternoon.

“It is not good,” Editor Newhouse said about the paper’s future.

One of the sticking points in the labor talks has been the requirement that each union employee to be laid off must agree with the plan. That stipulation made approval difficult, union leaders said.

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