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The way is clear for financier Jim Tyree and his investment group to take over the Sun-Times Media Group. In meetings Wednesday afternoon and evening, four units of the Chicago Newspaper Guild voted to accept Tyree's revised terms. The vote was 89 to 29 in favor at the Sun-Times unit, 28 to 8 at the Pioneer Press unit, 11 to 5 at the Lake County News-Sun unit, and 12 to 4 at the Joliet Herald News unit. All four units had rejected Tyree's original terms by lopsided margins.
Guild members of the Post-Tribune in Lake County, Indiana, will vote in the next couple of days, unit chair Andy Grimm told me Wednesday night. That guild unit is also expected to reverse itself.
What changed things? It wasn't just interim CEO Jeremy Halbreich's daily reminders that the company was running out of time and money, and that there seemed to be no alternative to Tyree but liquidation — so I was told by Lynne Stiefel, a Pioneer Press reporter and president of the Chicago Newspaper Guild.
"There were changes in the terms clearly," said Stiefel, a key guild negotiator in long, strenuous talks that lasted late into recent nights and adjourned Wednesday morning close to 3 AM, only to resume later in the day and continue until an agreement was reached about 2 PM. "Someone in the outside would not think they were significant. I can tell you they were significant. Were they enough? No. But in terms of getting back into writing a lot of the rights we have in the contract, it's key." She said the original terms allowed Tyree to ignore the guild contract at his pleasure. The specific language reserved for the new owners the right to eliminate "any work rule, jurisdictional rule, seniority limitation, or other provision [of the guild contract] which in [the new owners'] managerial discretion, might prevent, impede or increase the cost of [their] implementation of a new business plan."
Now, Stiefel said, areas of the contract that aren't explicitly altered or abolished will remain intact and protected. She'd told me earlier that Tyree's original demands would have left a guild contract that was the equivalent of a book cover with all the pages torn out. "They've ripped out a few pages -- there's no doubt about that," said Stiefel. "But there are a lot of pages left."
Stiefel attended the Waukegan meeting Wednesday afternoon and the Pioneer Press meeting in the evening.
"There was very heated discussion, very passionate discusion," she told me. "Nobody likes it. Nobody was expected to like it. Its not a pretty picture. I could argue both sides of it. I could defend all votes on all sides. But if this guy can make a go of it, more power to him. I will tell you this, it involves a whole lot of trust. It's the next in line of a whole line of managers who have used and abused these papers and we hope someone can make a go of it."
Stiefel called the talks "brutal and bizarre," and she said getting what little the guild got was like pulling teeth. She said she couldn't call the talks negotiatons because Tyree "said he wouldn't negotiate with us." He was the man who wasn't there. Instead, the guild haggled with STMG managers presumably representing Tyree's interests. "Its very difficult to negotiate with people who are not only not there but are insulated from you by layers and layers of other folk," she said. "That’s the way he chooses to do business, and he can do what he wants, but it doesn’t make for easy bargaining. It just doesn’t."
Halbreich apparently will stay on as CEO. "I think he's learned things about this market he may not have known," Siefel said, "and I hope it serves him well. I'm not going to bash him."