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Post-Gazette, 10 labor unions still can't agree

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Friday, May 28, 2010

No progress has been reported after four months of contract negotiations between the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and its 10 labor unions.

"Hopefully, we can make some progress in the next few weeks," said Joseph Molinero, president of Teamsters Local 211 and a leader of the newspaper unions' unity council.

Post-Gazette employees continue to work under terms of contracts that ended March 31, which were extended, said Molinero, whose union represents 300 delivery drivers and mechanics.

Unions represent about 800 employees, about 20 percent fewer than 2007 when the Post-Gazette settled its last round of contracts. Since then, the newspaper has offered three rounds of buyouts to its workers.

The Post-Gazette is seeking significant concessions from the Communications Workers of America-The Newspaper Guild Local 38061, including a 25 percent wage cut in the first year and a 10 percent wage reduction in the second year, plus cutbacks in other areas. The guild represents about 180 editorial and advertising workers.

R.J. Hufnagel, president of Local 38061, and Post-Gazette spokeswoman Tracey DeAngelo declined to comment.

Allan Block, chairman of Block Communications Inc. of Toledo, Ohio, which owns the Post-Gazette, the Toledo Blade, five television stations and a cable television system in Ohio, declined to comment.

Standard & Poor's recently upgraded Block Communications' credit rating to stable from negative and gave it a B+ rating, which remains below investment grade, spokeswoman Mimi Barker said. The rating indicates Block Communications is "vulnerable to adverse business, financial and economic conditions, but currently has the capacity to meet financial commitments," S&P said.

Block Communications has lost advertising revenue and subscriptions. Its newspaper revenue dropped by 15.3 percent in 2009 compared to 2008, S&P said. The company's television stations and cable system are the main contributors to the company's cash flow, S&P said.

Moody's rated Block Communications' corporate debt as Ba3, which classifies it as a "questionable security." Its secured debt had a higher credit rating of Ba1.

The parent company had $260 million in debt at the end of 2009, S&P said, compared to $275 million in debt in September 2006.

From October through March, the Post-Gazette saw its circulation drop 8.2 percent to 192,279 from Monday through Friday, according to an Audit Bureau of Circulations Fas-Fax report. The figures include more than 11,000 electronic edition subscribers.

Block Communications faces contract negotiations with three unions at the Toledo Blade, but no talks have been held, even though the three-year contracts expire Monday, said Lillian Covarrubias, president of the 200-member Toledo Newspaper Guild Local 34043. The unions represent about 400 workers.

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