Daily News’ ‘all digital’ ultimatum may backfire – New York Post

Top brass at the Daily News are said to be worried that the “all digital” ultimatum delivered by Chief Executive William Holiber to drivers earlier this week will backfire — and will actually prompt rank and file union members to reject the tentative pact when they vote on Nov. 20.

The drivers’ anger has been stoked by plans by the teetering tabloid to freeze the drivers’ pension plan for the first time in the paper’s 96-year history — while eliminating 58 of the company’s 106 routes.

As a sweetener, the tentative plan offers $70,000 buyouts to 34 drivers, according to the memorandum of agreement obtained by Media Ink.

News brass hoped the threat of dumping a print paper and going all digital would push the drivers to vote for acceptance of the deal.

But News executives involved in the negotiations are now said to be very worried it may not be enough to swing the restless drivers to accept the concession-heavy deal on the table.

A crucial general membership meeting takes place Nov. 13 ahead of next week’s vote.

“You’ll know how it is going to go based on the type of questions they get,” said one insider who is believed to be lobbying against the pact.

Tom Bentvena, the president of the Newspaper and Mail Deliverers Union, is said to be pushing for the tentative pact to pass because it favors buyouts over firings or wage rollbacks.

The tentative pact calls for the previously agreed-on 2 percent wage hike slated for April 2016 to be deferred until April 2017 — to be followed by increases of 2 percent in 2018, and 1 percent in 2019 and 2020.

The News has about 220 drivers, but 800 full-time drivers, including those from The Post, the Times and others represented by the NMDU get to vote on the deal.

The tentative pact calls for the drivers’ pension plan to end in March 2018.
In its place, owner Mort Zuckerman is promising a rather paltry $2,000-a-year contribution to a 401(k) plan.

If the new five-year pact is ratified, it will take effect almost immediately and replace one that was set to expire on March, 30 2017. The new pact runs through Jan. 1, 2021.

There is also an arbitration ruling that is expected to be handed down at the end of the month centered primarily on a route reduction plan.

Turnout by drivers is typically light. CEO Holiber issued an ultimatum to drivers on Nov. 10 — eight days after the tentative pact was reached.

“If the agreement is not ratified on the extended date (no more extensions) of November 20, we will immediately implement whatever changes result from the arbitrator’s ruling and start the process of transforming the Daily News to an ALL digital business,” said Holiber in a letter sent to Bentvena.

It is believed to be the first time that Zuckerman’s men acknowledged the company has a plan to go to all digital at some point in the future.

Zuckerman had put the paper on the block last February but pulled it in August when nobody submitted a viable bid. James Dolan, CEO of Cablevision — which owns Newsday — submitted a $1 bid, but it was not accepted.

Aside from the troubled tabloid’s $27 million in annual losses, prospective suitors were also scared off by liabilities for unionized workers that are estimated to be close to $100 million — much higher than the $20 million figure that was bandied about while the paper was on the block last summer.

Most industry observers feel that the short-term aim is to stem the flow of red ink and rein in future liabilities with the aim of hanging out the for sale sign again next year.

The Daily News has insisted that there is no plan to re-offer the paper.

Of course, up until Nov. 10 the top brass there never acknowledged there was a plan afoot to go all digital either.

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