Blade raises possibility of outsourcing productionWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Citing the expense of replacing aging printing presses and production equipment, The Blade has 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 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. “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. A representative was unable to be reached for comment.
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.”
Blade parent company Block Communications is involved in an ongoing lawsuit against Toledo Free Press involving contractual disputes with TFP publisher and president Tom Pounds.