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The packet laying out the concessions the Sun-Times Media Group wants from its unionized employees was received at the Chicago Newspaper Guild and other union headquarters Thursday evening, and read with mounting fury.
“This takes the contract and tears it up and basically says we are union in name only, and you don’t have any rights,” Tom Thibeault,executive director of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, was quoted as saying by the Sun-Times. “This is a terrible, terrible document. I cannot believe anybody at the Sun-Times would agree to this.” Thibeault had been mad enough to begin with, having complained to me that the packet was hours late in arriving.
Another union leader I talked to was a little more sanguine. Just as unions, in their first pass at proposing a new contract, often ask for the moon, this leader figures JIm Tyree, the financier in the process of buying the bankrupt media group, and Jeremy Halbreich, the group's interim CEO, have decided to begin negotiations by asking for everything back. "You figure they have to make a pass at it," said this leader. Another leader spoke in terms that call to mind the "facadectomy," the construction mode in Chicago that sees a completely new building constructed inside a gutted old facade: "They are tearing out all the pages inside our contract and leaving us with the cover."
Union leaders are meeting Friday morning at the machinists union hall in Hinsdale to discuss how to respond. "I predict it'll be a lot of venting," said one leader, who figures more concessions were inevitable and credits Tyree and Halbreich with at least presenting the ones they want as something other than unnegotiable demands.
One wrinkle is that the media group wants the bankruptcy auction that will resolve who the group's next owners will be on October 7, leaving the union leadership little time to try to bargain for better terms and then sell those terms to the rank and file. Tyree's group of investors is expected to be the only bidder.
UPDATE: At the end of a heated meeting, Joe Pijanowski, directing business representative for Local 126 of the machinists union, told me he has nothing to say about the company's packet of concessions because he still hasn't received it.
"I'm in the office right now," he said in mid-afternoon. "I got nothing. They told me it's supposed to be coming but I still don’t have it. I get more information out of the newspapers than I get out of the company."
I said I assumed the lack of a packet didn't keep him from speaking his piece at the morning meeting.
"That’s our prerogative," said Pijanowski. But as for talking to me about it, "How do you comment on something you don’t have? Try me again later."