NJ’s largest paper threatens unions with closure

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The owners of The Star-Ledger plan to close New Jersey’s largest newspaper by year’s end if its production unions don’t make concessions in contract negotiations, the publisher said Wednesday.

In a letter to staff, publisher Richard Vezza said the company felt “pushed into a corner” by the unions, whose contracts expire in July. Vezza said the unions have until Sept. 27 to make compromises or else the paper will shut down.

“This is not a threat. This is reality,” Vezza said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The paper’s website, nj.com, is owned by a separate company and will continue to publish “no matter what happens with the Ledger,” Vezza said.

In the letter, Vezza said the paper lost $19.8 million last year, and is on track to do the same in 2013. The Star-Ledger lost $12 million in 2011.

In January, the paper laid off 34 employees from its newsroom, which is not unionized. In recent years, wages and benefits have been cut and staff members have been forced to take unpaid furlough days.

Vezza said the paper asked the unions to negotiate in December about outsourcing production, a move he said could save $9 million a year.

Outsourcing without a union agreement would likely lead to a protracted court fight, he said.

“This is a very serious and painful situation,” Vezza told the AP. “It is certainly something we wouldn’t have done unless we felt that we really sort of had our backs to the wall on this.”

Calls to the unions seeking a response were not immediately returned.

This is not the first time the Star-Ledger has threatened to shut down over union negotiations. In 2008 the then-publisher said the paper would cease to print if union concessions weren’t met. The two sides came to an agreement a few months later.

“I am optimistic that we’re going to be able to strike a deal with the union,” Vezza said. He hopes the letter will bring both sides back to the negotiating table “in a serious and meaningful way.”

The Star-Ledger is part of Advance Publications Inc., a privately held company owned by the Newhouse family.

Unlike some of its sister papers, the Star-Ledger has no plans to reduce its print edition to three days a week, Vezza said. The company has said the market is too competitive to make that a cost-cutting option.

The Star-Ledger has 771 employees, 240 on the production staff and 170 in the newsroom.

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