Seattle Times freezing nonunion pensions

by Andrea James, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Four days after telling its nonunion employees that they each must take one week of unpaid leave, The Seattle Times has confirmed that it will also freeze their pensions.

The freeze takes effect Feb. 6 and stops benefit accruals for the current plan year. It does not affect the company's 401(k) plan.

"The specific savings related to this action are not going to be released publicly," Times spokeswoman Jill Mackie said. "We regret the effect of these decisions on our employees. We have a remarkable work force, and we are doing what we can to respond to the financial challenges we face during this unprecedented tough economy."

The Seattle Times Co. is in financial trouble because of declining classified advertising revenue, economic instability and the size of its own debt.

Last week, a memo to employees said that 500 nonunion workers, including managers, had to take one week of unpaid leave by Feb. 28 so that the company could achieve cost savings in early 2009.

"There are very few areas remaining in which we can pursue necessary savings; however, we must continue to take steps to offset our dire economic situation," Times Senior Vice President Alayne Fardella wrote Friday in a two-page memo sent to all nonunionized employees. "I regret that we do not have better news for you at this time. It has been and continues to be a long and difficult fight for our survival."

The company has also made three rounds of layoffs this year. The Seattle Times said it would consult with its unions next year to figure out how they will participate in the cost savings.

The Times has to bargain with the union if it wants to make changes that affect members' pay, said Liz Brown, administrative officer of The Times' biggest union, the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild.

The Seattle Times holds at least $91 million in debt, according to a refinancing agreement filed in King County dated Dec. 1. The document lists The Seattle Times parking lot on the corner of Fairview Avenue North and Denny Way as collateral to secure debt with The Bank of New York Mellon.

The Times Co., majority-owned by the Blethen family, borrowed $233 million to buy newspapers in Maine in 1998. The Times is working to sell those papers now so it can give priority to its flagship newspaper, The Seattle Times.

The Times is liable to a group of major financial institutions for its debt and must prove to its creditors that it has sufficient revenue and cash flow, according to court documents regarding the Maine sale. The Times also has put two of its four downtown Seattle properties up for sale.

The McClatchy Co. owns a 49.5 percent stake in The Times Co. That stake has lost most of its carrying value and is now worth $7.94 million, compared with $102.2 million in 2006, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

article originally published at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/393433_timespension24.html.

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