Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lee 'very, very close' to final offer to St. Louis guild

On Friday, Lee Enterprises sent what it called its "very, very close to our last, best and final offer" to the St. Louis Newspaper Guild. The new proposal includes a 10 percent pay cut and three unpaid one-week furloughs between now and Sept. 30, 2012. Previous proposals included a 15 percent pay cut in the first year and a 5 percent pay cut the next two years, but no furloughs. The guild will make a counter offer Wednesday.

The union sent its members an overview of Lee's new proposal:
5.5 year contract (This would make the contract conform to Lee's fiscal year-FY) 10% wage with three one-week furloughs between now and Sept. 30, 2012.

Possible* 2.5 % raise based on year over revenue in October 2012, 2013, 2014

*Raises are triggered by year over year revenue increases of 2% or more. Revenue is defined as total revenue of the Post-Dispatch and STL Distribution as they have historically recorded revenue.

Advertising Sale Reps-Retail sales reps, who currently have a base of $400 per week and outside sales commission employees, who currently have no base, will now have a base of $575 per week.

Retiree Medical-Eliminate

Retiree Life Insurance-Eliminate

Pension Plan-Freeze (keep the accrued benefits, but the pension would stop growing)

401K- Increase monthly contribution to $75 a month

Newsroom: Status quo if you have a company provided phone you can keep it and the company will continue to pay for it.

Advertising: The Company will approve PDAs for all outside sales employees. Employees will be reimbursed $100 to buy a PDA and given $60 a month to plan for a minute plan.

The company is also proposing transitioning Guild members from the current accrual method of accounting for vacation to a grant system of vacation. We are still attempting to fully understand the impact of this and we'll share the details of this when the company clarifies this part of the proposal.

Seniority changes proposed by Company would give them the right to exclude up to 20% of the employees in an affected job classification in the event of a layoff.

Guild members have posted signs and tent cards to present a unified voice opposing Lee's then-proposed 15 percent pay cut. (This sign references the paper's "moxie" campaign.)

(Via e-mails)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Louis Newspaper Guild adds mark to win column

In a case that even the St. Louis Newspaper Guild says can get confusing, recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch guild retirees whose low-deductible medical insurance was changed to a higher plan will have their original plan reinstated, and will get cash-back for the difference.

The union has a complete recap on its website.

(Via e-mail)

Monday, February 22, 2010

University of Nebraska names dean of journalism

The Knight Foundation's journalism program director Gary Kebbel has been named dean of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's college of journalism and mass communications. Former Lee vice president David Stoeffler was a finalist for the job.

Kebbel's appointment must still be approved by the university's board of regents; he would start July 1.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lee papers don't report company's revenue loss

At its shareholder meeting earlier this week, Lee announced its revenue in January fell 9.2 percent from the previous year.

If you already knew that, it probably wasn't from reading a Lee newspaper.

It looks like the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, wrote the official story on the shareholder meeting, which never mentions the loss in revenue. Reading the story, one would think Lee's revenue has increased.

Read it for yourself. Here it is in the:
Quad-City Times
The Chippewa Herald
The Pantagraph
Sioux City Journal
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Times of Northwest Indiana

Have you seen the same story (or a slightly edited version) on other Lee websites? Post a link in the comments, or send me an e-mail and I'll add it to the list.

Friday, February 19, 2010

College paper queries decline of the Post-Dispatch

A St. Louis college newspaper is taking Lee to task. In an editorial titled The Post-Dispatch's decline spells trouble for all St. Louisians, the Webster University paper takes a look at the "Post-Dispatch's destruction."
A solid newspaper keeps the wolves at bay. It keeps the corrupt in check and prevents the little guy from constant fleecing. If the Post-Dispatch isn't around to speak truth to power, who will?
The editorial is similar to the St. Louis Newspaper Guild's open letter to Mary Junck.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Earnings down 'only' 9.2 percent

Lee's revenue continues to slide: January total revenue fell 9.2 percent from the previous year. At the annual stockholder meeting, CFO Carl Schmidt said he expects the "improvement" to continue in February and March.

In the second quarter, which ends in March, Lee expects operating costs to fall by 9 percent. No details on cost-cutting measures, but compensation costs have fallen 19.6 percent from 2008 to 2009. The opening slide in the stockholder slideshow said "We continue to generate substantial cash flow in a difficult economy."

CEO Mary Junck told stockholders that Lee's papers and websites reach up to three-fourths of adults over a week in their markets.

"In a time of rapidly evolving digital interactivity, our newspapers and online sites remain in front, by far, surpassing all print, broadcast and online competitors as the primary source for local news, information and advertising in our communities," she said. "Without us, most local news would never come to light."

Schmidt also said the company paid down $198 million of debt in 2009.

Read Lee's statement on its earnings report, and see the 31-page slideshow (PDF).

St. Louis guild OKs $500,000 for campaign against Lee

The St. Louis Newspaper Guild has voted to use $500,000 for a possible campaign against Lee Enterprises. Negotiations between the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the union have deteriorated, and the union says it fears the company may soon try to declare an impasse.

"We will launch a full-fledged corporate campaign against Lee only if the company terminates our contract and imposes wage and benefit cuts," a recent guild newsletter article said. "This step will be taken only after our members vote to authorize such action."

Details of the $500,000 campaign were not released, but will include social media -- blogs, Twitter and Facebook -- based on the guild story.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No raises for Lee employees; what about execs?

Salaries for Lee employees have been frozen for more than a year now. Last year, wages also were frozen for Lee executives; I have not yet seen that for 2010. Does anyone know if that policy has carried over to the new fiscal year, or how much those raises are?
At the Billings (Mont.) Gazette "state of the paper" meeting last week, publisher Mike Gulledge told employees there will be no raises or 401(k) contributions in 2010 -- a companywide policy. He also said the Gazette is ahead of plan for the first quarter. Gulledge, who is also Lee's publishing vice president, said he and the "CEO team" talk about raises and benefits every week, but have not decided when to bring them back.
(via e-mail; send tips to

Sunday, February 14, 2010

St. Louis guild writes open letter to Junck

The latest newsletter from the St. Louis Newspaper Guild included an open letter to Lee CEO Mary Junck and St. Louis Post-Dispatch publisher Kevin Mowbray. The guild recently said negotiations on a new contract for Post-Dispatch employees has "turned more acrimonious." The letter recaps a bit of Lee/Post-Dispatch history, but never seems to deliver on the build-up. Here it is, in full:
Mary Junck, CEO of Lee Enterprises
Kevin Mowbray, publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
And the officers and directors of Lee Enterprises

What it all comes down to is this: You’re just not that into us, and you never were.

From almost Day 1, we couldn’t really understand why Lee Enterprises felt compelled to buy Pulitzer. After all, Lee is a small town corporation; St. Louis, by Midwest standards, is a big city. The biggest of Lee’s newspapers barely reach 100,000 circulation; the Post-Dispatch has daily circulation twice that – and four times that on Sunday. Lee’s newspapers thrive by covering local news in small cities and towns; the Post-Dispatch made its mark covering the world, with a fully staffed Washington bureau.

Most of all, we couldn’t understand why Lee Enterprises, a mostly union-free operation accustomed to dictating terms to its newspapers, would take on insane debt to purchase a unionized paper in a pro-union city whose people react badly to being told what to do by carpetbaggers.

You must have felt that Pulitzer in general, and the Post-Dispatch in particular, would be a media jewel in your corporate crown. We thought that the Post-Dispatch might be a model by which Lee could expand the journalistic reach of its other newspapers. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that your goal was to turn the Post-Dispatch into just another Lee newspaper.

So, starting long before the economy tanked, we watched as scores of our colleagues were bought out and laid off. This may have helped the bottom line but also erased hundreds of years of institutional wisdom and memory on which great newspapers depend. We watched as you gutted the Washington bureau, national desk and wire desk. We watched as you killed the Everyday section and relegated feature writing to the margins, eliminating a brand that St. Louisans had turned to for more than 100 years.

And we sat by while you treated the Post-Dispatch and its employees and retirees with a breathtaking lack of respect. This began as soon as you took the keys to the building, with the inanely hostile act of prohibiting union members from using the Lee Lodge. And it has continued right through contract negotiations and the immoral and, in our view, illegal stripping of paid health insurance from the retired men and women who built this newspaper and worked for decades toward that benefit.
As you have remade the Post-Dispatch in the image of Davenport or Munster, you have told us that we make too much money, as if St. Louis and Davenport, or Munster, were equivalent in any meaningful way.

You have said that even if Lee were “swimming in money,” our retirees wouldn’t get any of it.

And you continue to insist that we take a 23 percent pay cut among other Draconian economic proposals, while rejecting each and every proposal we have given you for saving money or making money.

So here we are. And we’re still wondering: Why did Lee Enterprises buy Pulitzer if its goal was to destroy it?

And here are two more things that you may not have known about the Newspaper Guild five years ago and that you apparently still haven’t learned: You can’t scare us to death, and we will not roll over.
Read the rest of the newsletter on the guild's website.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Southern Illinoisan appoints new publisher

Bob Williams, publisher of the Suburban Journals of St. Louis, has been appointed publisher of The Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale, Ill. Williams has been at the Suburban Journals since 2007; he joined Lee in 1998. He replaces Dennis DeRossett, who is leaving to become the executive director of the Illinois Press Association.

(Via e-mail)

Fundraiser set for former Lee employee

Greg Stewart worked at The Southern Illinoisan for nearly 20 years before entering law school. He graduated in 2007 and launched a new career: Lawyer. He lost his first case. He won one soon after that. He became a fixture at early morning dockets and night courts in the St. Louis area. And then, in September 2009, he was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.

Stewart began chemotherapy treatment, and spent time in the hospital. He's out now, but his leukemia is not yet in remission. He will undergo more chemotherapy treatments in the coming months, and eventually will need a bone marrow transplant.

In the meantime, Stewart is getting back to work. He lost 40 pounds while in the hospital; he can't afford to buy a suit to wear for court appearances. And then there are the medical expenses.

Missouri Lawyers Weekly recently wrote about Stewart; read that story here. (The publication was wrapping up a year-long series on Stewart when he was diagnosed with leukemia.)

To help with expenses, Stewart's friends and colleagues have organized a trivia-night fundraiser on March 13 at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in St. Louis.

I know this blog has several St. Louis readers -- I hope some of you can send photos and reports of success from the fundraiser.

(Via e-mail)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

St. Louis guild on contract negotiations: 'Things have gotten more serious'

It sounds like contract negotiations between the St. Louis Post-Dispatch union employees and Lee Enterprises is heating up. A memo from the St. Louis Newspaper Guild:
In the last week, the company has turned more acrimonious in its negotiations with the Guild. The company continues to demand a 15% wage cut in the first year of the contract, followed by a 5% cut the second year and 5% cut the third year. They still insist on eliminating retiree health care and they are demanding huge concessions on seniority.

We are now meeting twice a week with the company and a federal mediator is sitting in on negotiations. Things have gotten more serious.

Despite numerous tentative agreements, roughly a dozen on various individual items in the contract, we are concerned that the company may soon move to declare impasse. This belief is based on a number of thinly-veiled threats the company has issued across the bargaining table.

Under federal law, if impasse is reached, the company could break off negotiations and make their “last, best and final” offer. The Guild would bring that offer, as bad as it might be, to the members for a vote. This could all happen quickly, within weeks if the company moves aggressively.

It would be fair to assume the company’s final offer would include many of the above poisonous provisions but would also include freezing the pension plan, eliminating the 401-K contributions, and other bad deals for the members. Obviously, the Guild would not endorse the offer and it would likely be voted down by the members.

If their final offer is voted down, the company has two choices; return to the bargaining table and continue bargaining or impose the terms and conditions of their last, best and final offer.

If the company declares impasse, the Guild will file an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Guild believes we are far from impasse. We have made steady progress through negotiations. The Guild has stated time and again at the bargaining table that we want to reach an agreement. And we do.

While we do not believe the company has a case for impasse, we could all end up working under imposed working conditions until the NLRB comes to a decision on our unfair labor practice charge.

A declaration of impasse by the company would allow the Guild to pursue a number of options to force the company back to the table. Those options include all forms of economic actions against the company. The Guild has laid the ground for a corporate campaign directed at the economic interests of Lee Enterprises. For strategic reasons we’d prefer not to reveal the details of the plan at this time.

The Guild continues to work diligently towards an agreement.

We want to paint a realistic picture of where we stand and what the stakes are. Now is the time to pay attention and get involved. This affects the future of all of us. More information will be released in a Ruffled Feather next week. We are also planning a unit meeting for later in February.

Via e-mail. Send tips and memos to

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Got news?

The Lee news seems to be rather slow lately. Heard anything interesting? E-mail or leave a comment.