The Portland Newspaper Guild voted today to accept contract concessions, including pay cuts and layoffs, to pave the way for MaineToday Media Inc. to acquire the Portland Press Herald's parent company.
The vote was 161-19, with 82% of the Guild's 300 members casting a secret ballot, Tom Bell, president of the Guild, said at a press conference. "No one can remember a turnout that high," he said.
The 161 guild members voted to accept a 10% pay cut, a two-year wage freeze and a suspension of both 401(k) and pension contributions. In exchange, union members will receive 15% ownership in the new company and two seats on the board of directors. Bell also said "significant layoffs" are expected, but that he was confident that the majority would happen through buyouts. "These concessions represent our contribution to the company," Bell said.
The union's concessions are necessary to accommodate MaineToday Media's acquisition of Blethen, Richard Connor, the leader of MaineToday Media, has said. During the press conference, Bell called Connor, a Bangor native who owns the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., "a great newspaper man." "Rich Connor is an entrepreneur," he said. "That's why he's perfect for this business right now."
The paper is expected to grow under the ownership of MaineToday Media Inc., with the new company investing $500,000 more than usual on newsprint, Bell said, allowing discontinued sections of the paper to return.
MaineToday Media Inc. has been working to buy Blethen Maine Newspapers from The Seattle Times Co. Blethen includes the Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, some weekly papers and an online division. Connor, who has teamed up with Texas-based HM Capital Partners to buy the company, recently said he has finally lined up bank financing. Bell said the bank has not been named, but it does have a local presence.
The Portland Newspaper Guild's vote was important because it is the largest union in the company, but other unions that represent Blethen employees, including the Graphic Communications Union and the Communications Workers of America, which represents about 85 workers at the Kennebec Journal, will also vote on contract concessions. These unions will also gain one seat on the board, which Bell said will have seven or nine seats.