Blade to close Downtown production facility, lay off 131 employeesWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE: Block Communications also plans to lay off more than 100 production employees at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Blade plans to close its Downtown production facility and lay off at least 131 employees, according to a letter from Block Communications Inc. (BCI) to Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins dated May 29.
Collins confirmed the letter, which he said he received May 30.
“The Toledo Blade has developed plans to close its facility located at 541 North Superior Street, Toledo, OH 43660. The entire facility will be closed, and it presently is anticipated that this shutdown will be permanent,” the letter states. “Consistent with these plans, employment separations are expected to begin on or about August 1, 2014 or during the 14-day period thereafter. Approximately 131 employees currently are expected to be separated from employment. Bumping rights are not available for affected employees. Some of the affected employees are represented by a labor organization.”
A call to The Blade requesting comment was not returned. Stephen B. Spolar, BCI vice president of human resources and labor relations, also did not return a request for comment. BCI is the parent company of The Blade.
The company has not stated where the paper will be produced once the Downtown production facility closes.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, another daily paper owned by Block Communications, also recently announced plans to close its production facilities and lay off employees. The company will lay off 136 employees starting July 28, according to a notification letter dated May 23 sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. The Post-Gazette has reported BCI plans to install new press equipment and move production of the paper to a leased building outside Pittsburgh by August.
Earlier this month, citing the expense of replacing aging printing presses and production equipment, The Blade proposed moving to an outside vendor for newspaper production when its current labor contract ends May 31.
During a May 7 meeting with the Joint Council of Newspaper Unions, Blade management explained that its printing presses and related production equipment are “at the end of their useful lives and approaching obsolescence” and that replacing the operating equipment would cost millions of dollars, according to an email sent to Blade employees by Bill Nolan, director of human resources and labor relations.
“A number of the production systems are no longer supported by their manufacturers and only a single plate supplier remains for its flexo press plates; that supplier is located in the United Kingdom,” the email stated.
In addition, The Blade’s Superior Street building is “expensive to maintain and it, alone, may require millions of dollars of repairs.” The newspaper has also “been losing money for many years, with losses exceeding $8.5 million in 2013,” the email stated.
The Blade has offered to continue to meet with its unions to discuss the proposal as well as negotiate over its effects on Joint Council of Newspaper Unions’ represented employees, according to the email. It was unclear at the time how many employees the potential move could affect.
“We view our negotiations with the labor unions that represent our employees as a private matter and when we are prepared to make a statement, we will issue one,” Nolan told Toledo Free Press earlier this month. “Up until then we will have no comment.”
The Joint Council of Newspaper Unions is comprised of seven of The Blade’s eight employee unions.
The Toledo Newspaper Guild, which according to its website represents 200 employees in the advertising, editorial, marketing, circulation, finance and information systems departments, bargains separately with The Blade. Although not involved in the May 7 meeting, The Guild released a statement:
“The Guild regrets how the announced proposed decision by Block Communications to outsource production of The Blade will impact Toledo employees and their families. Management has agreed to continue discussions with the Joint Council to negotiate the terms of the proposal, and its impact on the represented employees. Unlike in the past, The Guild and the Joint Council are negotiating with BCI separately. We believe that BCI should invest in Toledo, in its product, and in its most valuable resource: its employees. The company should always remember that The Blade works because we do.”
Tim Higgins, who is retired from a 30-year career selling and servicing capital equipment to North American newspapers, said The Blade’s presses are more than 20 years old and he’s not surprised the company may be looking to outsource.
“Not only is the flexographic method currently used by The Blade one seldom used in newspapers (and therefore not worth the cost of updating), but the capital investment being made to replace the same (and even older) technology at their sister paper in Pittsburgh [the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] probably factors into the financial equation as well,” Higgins, a Toledo Free Press columnist, wrote in an email to TFP.
“Flexography was thought to be a big deal at one point in the industry, because the water-based ink tended to dry with little or no newsprint ‘rub off’ and was potentially more environmentally friendly than the petroleum-based ‘offset’ inks from the dominant newspaper printing process. Flexo turned out to be a dead end in the industry, which became dominated by offset printing.
“Watching the recent contraction and consolidation of many of the printing sites that I’ve worked on over the years, including The Blade, has been a rule rather than an exception. Decreasing advertising revenue and circulation numbers, combined with an increasing popularity of electronic alternatives are simply realities that the traditional daily newspaper is now forced to deal with, some more successfully than others.”
BCI is involved in an ongoing lawsuit against Toledo Free Press involving contractual disputes with TFP publisher and president Tom Pounds.