Brinksmanship at the Strib: Union threatens shutdown

The Star-Tribune faces economic ruin and a significant loss of readership, and one might think that the crisis would bring the stakeholders in the business together for some crisis management.  Of course, had they been able to do that, perhaps the crisis would never have reached this advanced stage, and it looks like it will get worse — much worse.  The Teamsters, which represents the delivery drivers, now says that any attempt to use bankruptcy to eliminate current contracts will result in a complete shutdown of distribution:

The Teamsters union is threatening a strike it says would likely shut down the Star Tribune if the newspaper, which is in bankruptcy protection, is allowed to scrap its contract with unionized drivers.

Teamsters Local 638 filed its opposition Monday to the newspaper’s proposal to reject the contract.

The newspaper wants to pull out of what it calls a “critically unfunded” multi-employer pension plan that was costing it more than $1 million a year in plan contributions.

But the Teamsters local, which represents about 190 full- and part-time drivers at the Star Tribune, has authorized a strike if a federal bankruptcy court allows the newspaper to reject the contract. The drivers say if they strike, Teamsters locals that represent mailers and pressmen at the paper also likely would strike.

“Because these employees operate the presses which print the paper, assemble the papers and deliver the papers, a Local 638 strike is likely to have a devastating impact on the Star Tribune’s ability to operate, and in all likelihood will shut the paper down,” the drivers’ union said.

At this stage, any labor action will have “a devastating impact” on operations.  In fact, even a smaller action would probably be enough for the owners to get forced into liquidation.  The paper has bled red ink for years, and an interruption in service that lasted more than a couple of days would probably send its customers to the Pioneer Press — or off of home-delivery newspapers altogether.

People routinely accuse conservatives of cheering the deaths of newspapers, but that’s not really true, especially in my case.  Newspapers like the Strib do the kind of local and regional reporting that other media outlets usually ignore.  In fact, the Strib does a good job in that area (as does the Pioneer Press).  Losing either or both would make it much more difficult to stay informed on local politics and events, and would be a tremendous blow to the community.  One would hope that the vacuum that a Strib collapse would create would prompt others to fill the market need, but it would take some time to develop.

The irony here is that the editorial policies of the Strib, which have been hard-Left and more than occasionally hypocritical, would normally side with the Teamsters on this issue.  If other industries used bankruptcy to shed their union contracts, the Strib’s editors would scream to high heaven about it.  But the specter of actual bankruptcy tends to broaden one’s horizons as one’s options narrow.

Hopefully, management and labor can resolve this without a crippling strike at the worst possible time.  Otherwise, the Teamsters may as well just tell their members to find new jobs, because a walkout will end the ones they leave.