By: Joe Strupp
The Jersey Journal, the 135-year-old daily newspaper that had planned to close with today’s issue because of stalled labor talks, received a last-minute reprieve early Saturday morning when representatives of the truck drivers’ union tentatively agreed to cut their 18-person workforce in half.
If the membership of the Newspaper and Mail Deliverers Union (NMDU) ratifies the plan for nine drivers to be laid off, the agreement means the paper will continue to publish at least for the foreseeable future.
“It’s been a real roller coaster,” Journal Editor in Chief Steven Newhouse told E&P Saturday, just hours after the deal was struck. “We can come out on Monday and we still have a great product and great feelings for the future.”
NMDU was the last of the paper’s three unions to agree to severe cutbacks requested by management earlier this month, including layoffs of about half of all unionized workers, in order to keep the paper publishing. Advance Publications, which owns the 43,876-circulation daily, requested the cutbacks to offset continued losses, most of which stem from the poor advertising market and a circulation decline.
The paper had set a Saturday deadline, announcing that the last paper would be published today 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 as Saturday’s deadline loomed. 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 all that changed Friday when word of renewed talks spread through the newsroom and the drivers agreed to the layoff plan early Saturday.
But Guild president Ron Leir, a veteran Journal reporter, stressed that nothing is finalized until the drivers ratify the agreement. He also noted that all 47 employees slated for layoffs must agree to give up their jobs, according to the union contracts. If even one of those set to be ousted refuses to sign a waiver agreeing to the plan, the deal is dead.
The staff reduction plan includes a severance package in which those slated for layoffs will receive two weeks’ pay for each year of service up to 48 weeks, a $10-per-week raise retroactive to June 2000, and paid health benefits for nine months. Those who remain at the paper would receive a $10-per-week raise annually for the next three years.
Earl Morgan, a Journal columnist for 27 years, told the Associated Press that the Journal fills a niche in Hudson County that could not be filled by larger newspapers or smaller weeklies.
“Jersey City exists in sort of a news valley,” he said. “News goes over our head from New York to Newark, and from Newark to New York. Stuff happens here that never gets covered by the bigger media. They won’t come into town unless there’s a two-headed dog born or something.”