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In the difficult passage of the Sun-Times Media Group from its present owners to a group of investors led by financier James Tyree, Thursday was a particularly awkward day. First interim CEO Jeremy Halbreich issued a statement insisting on the inflexibility of a September 29 deadline for the STMG unions to approve the new working terms Tyree requests. Then the bankruptcy judge in Delaware dismissed that deadline as mere "posturing" on the part of the company.
On Friday, Tyree spoke up.
A statement from STMG Holdings, which is what his investors group is calling itself, asserted that "time is of the essence," and that the concessions Tyree is asking of the unions are those "we truly believe are necessary to turn the business around." These concessions have been received by the Newspaper Guild as measures that would essentially turn all of STMG into a nonunion shops, and they've been overwhelmingly rejected by guild employees at the papers in Joliet, Waukegan, and Gary, as well as at the Sun-Times and Pioneer Press.
Here's the complete statement:
One more step, an important one, has been taken in our process to acquire the Chicago Sun-Times and its sister papers. Yesterday, the bid procedures and Asset Purchase Agreement we negotiated with the company were approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. This is an important step; however, we recognize that there are still several hurdles, including four major ones.
First, the agreement requires that no material adverse change occur to the business between now and closing. Second, it is contingent upon the approval of amendments to the collective bargaining agreements by each of the company's unions. Third,we must be the successful bidder at the company's upcoming auction on October 7. Fourth, time is of the essence — the longer the process takes, the less likely it is that we will be able to succeed.
We realize that these hurdles are high and we do not take any of them for granted. We understand the concerns of union members about the amendments that we believe are necessary to save the papers. We are hopeful that as all facts become known, union members will realize that we are supporters of organized labor, not adversaries. We have proposed the only solution we know that will give us a chance to retain 1,800 jobs, including over 600 union positions. We have not suggested concessions beyond those we truly believe are necessary to turn the business around.
We do face challenges from competition who may be interested in seeing the Sun-Times Media Group papers stop publishing. At yesterday's hearing, the judge agreed that liquidation bidders, who might seek to buy and sell off the assets of the Sun-Times, would be allowed to submit qualified bids to compete with bids like ours that seek to continue operating the newspapers. Furthermore, representatives of the Sun-Times' biggest competitor were in the courtroom.
Finally, there have been many misleading and negative reports about the necessary timeline and approval process. We are committed to continue to work hard to complete the transaction. To protect the future of the Sun-Times Media Group business, however, it is crucial for us to achieve the union amendments promptly for a closing as quickly as possible after the October 8 sale hearing. Time remains of the essence to save this institution.
We are committed to doing all we can to work through each of these issues. We recognize this process is difficult because we are asking a lot of the Sun-Times Media Group employees. The only way for our plan to succeed is if the union and non-union employees believe in and are excited about the potential of rebuilding a successful business. We look forward to working together to that end.