Wage concessions proposed at Portland, Waterville papers

Posted May 24, 2009, at 7:19 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Sale of three Maine newspapers and affiliated Web sites could move closer to completion if a union representing editorial employees at the Portland Press Herald and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville votes for concessions.

Blethen Maine Newspapers put those papers and the Kennebec Journal of Augusta up for sale 15 months ago, and a potential buyer said the Portland Newspaper Guild’s agreement to cut wages 10 percent and scale back retirement benefits will help make the deal feasible.

In exchange, employees would join a stock ownership plan giving them a 15 percent stake in the company.

The union’s executive board voted to support the plan on Friday; members are scheduled to vote on it next Friday.

Richard Connor, a Bangor native who is editor and publisher of the Times Leader newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., said he thinks he can buck downward trends in the newspaper industry.

“There is usually an opportunity for an entrepreneur and an entrepreneurial team such as the one I plan to build here to make a difference in a business when they can make all the decisions on the spot, locally,” he said.

Connor has financial backing from HM Capital, a private equity firm in Dallas. The potential buyers’ firm is called MaineToday Media Inc.

In addition to the employee stock ownership plan, the Guild would be given two of the seven to nine seats on the company’s board of directors, with a third seat going to a representative from one of the unions representing other workers at the papers.

The Guild represents about 300 employees at the Press Herald and roughly 50 in Waterville.

“The design of this agreement is to change the way employees view the newspaper, to make employees feel like entrepreneurs,” said Guild President Tom Bell. “For this industry to survive, we need to have everyone thinking of new ideas and get their ideas to the decision-makers.”

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