To no one’s great surprise, management and leaders of four unions at the Newark Star-Ledger reached an 11th-hour agreement on a new four-year contract that will save the 171-year-old daily from shutdown. After two weeks of intense negotiations, which culminated in a 48-hour around-the-clock bargaining session, negotiators said they reached a deal that involved sacrifices on each side. No details were released, but Ed Shown, president of the Council of Star-Ledger Unions, said management got most of the $9 million in cuts it was seeking. Union members will vote to ratify the contract next week.
Star-Ledger executives had little to say, but in reading between the lines of what union negotiators said, we can assume that the unions got the worst of this deal. Management’s original proposal had demanded a 55% cut in wages and benefits, which union leaders said was outrageous. Management sought $9 million in annual savings on labor expenses, saying that was equivalent to the amount it could save by outsourcing production entirely. The Star-Ledger lost $19 million last year and is on track to lose that much money again this year. It’s hard to understand why cutting those losses in half is considered an accomplishment, particularly since owner Advance Publications has been hacking away at expenses across its portfolio of titles.
We expect the drama isn’t over yet in Newark. With an unemployment rate of 10.2% and household income that’s one-third lower than the national average, the economy in New Jersey’s largest city doesn’t offer the paper’s management a lot of options.