By Steve Tawa
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Management at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News and the media company's largest labor union are both digging in their heels in contract negotiations.
Members of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, representing about 445 workers, have authorized the union's executive board, by a vote of 263-15, to begin strike preparations.
Workers for the online service Philly.com, who have a separate contract, also voted (24-7) in favor of preparing to strike against the parent company, Philadelphia Media Network.
The Guild represents reporters, photographers, editors, and other newsroom support staff. Their contract originally expired in February, so all parties are working under a contract extension. They have had more than 30 bargaining sessions in the last seven months.
Guild leaders say they have worked with the company on three straight concessionary contracts -- giving up sick days, overtime, and salary while losing half of their membership over the past 15 years.
Now, the main issues are health care contributions, seniority, and folding philly.com workers into the main unit.
The current contract extension runs through June 27th. Management says it will operate "both digitally and in print" in the event of a strike.
The company says that in the event of a work stoppage the union workers won't be paid, and it will stop contributing to their health and welfare benefits immediately.
A spokeswoman for PMN says negotiators remain hopeful that with the help of a federal mediator, the Guild will soon join 12 other unions who have reached or are very close to reaching contract agreements.
Management has agreements or tentative agreements with seven of the 12 trade unions, and says it hopes to finalize agreements soon with the other five.
The last strike at the two big dailies happened several ownerships ago. Back in 1985 there was a 46-day walkout against then-owner Knight Ridder. PMN is currently owned by philanthropist Gerry Lenfest.
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