By: Joe Strupp
The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, which expects to end a bruising nine-month lockout of some 200 workers through a settlement reached this week, is bracing for more tough times as plans form for further job cuts, wage reductions, and health benefit cutbacks.
Although the lockout of five of the paper’s eight unions is expected to end when each bargaining unit ratifies the new contracts forged Wednesday, provisions in the new agreements that eliminate mandatory staffing levels and call for wage and benefit decreases mean that some of those voting on the new deal will not stay to see it through.
“There will be fewer people at The Blade come July 1,” said Assistant Managing Editor LuAnn Sharp, a spokeswoman. That date, she noted, marks the beginning of the paper’s fiscal year. “I would think it would be partly buyout, partly layoff, but I can’t discuss the details because everyone hasn’t voted yet.”
Four of the five locked-out unions, representing paper handlers, engravers, mailers, and typographical workers, ratified their contracts Wednesday night, Sharp said. The fifth locked-out union, a Teamsters unit representing drivers, votes today.
Newspaper Guild employees, who were not locked-out and represent the most Blade workers, vote Friday. The paper’s eighth union, which represents electrical workers, approved a new contract last summer.
During the lockout, Blade executives had said they wanted more flexibility in staffing in order to cut salary costs, noting that they only needed to hire some 80 replacement workers to do the work of the 200 locked-out employees. Sharp said each of the locked-out unions had mandatory staffing requirements in their previous agreements that will no longer be in place, allowing for job cuts.
“Part of the way to end the lockout and get back to work was to address those staffing levels,” she said. “That means there will be fewer people than before.”
Larry Vellequette, a spokesman for the Toledo Council of Newspaper Unions, confirmed that the new agreements also include wage decreases and health benefit cuts, but declined to offer specifics. “They are pretty significant,” he said. “It is a whole range of economic givebacks to try to make them profitable again.”
Vellequette declined to speculate on how the remaining contract votes would go, but noted that the union leadership had not offered a recommendation to approve the agreements. “It is up to them to decide,” he said of the membership. When asked why the union leaders had agreed to tentatively approve an agreement with so many negative elements, he said, “there were five units locked out.”
The Blade, which has 525 full-time union employees and 70 management employees, recently announced a Guild layoff that will include a cutback of 27 jobs, Sharp said. Despite all of the recent turmoil, Sharp said she believes the paper can come out of the lock-out and cutbacks in a positive way. “We still have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we believe we can live with this settlement,” she said. “It will be tough, but we think we can make it work.”
Vellequette also agreed to go forth in a positive manner. “We all committed to rebuild the paper,” he said. “We can’t do that if we are at each others’ throats.”