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Belo management seeks pay cuts from ProJo staffers

The travails of The Boston Globe have devoured barrels of ink of late. The New York Times Co., owner of the paper, has threatened to shut the paper down next week if employee unions won't provide $20 million in concessions.

But the print media in the Renaissance City, coping with the same decline in advertising revenue that has swept the entire newspaper industry, is facing trouble of its own.

Just yesterday, Stephen Mindich, president, CEO and chairman of The Phoenix Media/Communications Group, owner of The Providence Phoenix, Boston Phoenix and Portland Phoenix, among other businesses, sent an e-mail to employees announcing a series of cuts.The company is laying off six people in the Boston office, including two in editorial, suspending 401(k) matches for employees and instituting 2 to 10 percent pay cuts from management on down, with the highest-paid employees taking the biggest reductions. (Some of the top brass will take even bigger pay cuts.)Over on Fountain Street, The Providence Journal slashed about 100 positions last month – cutting roughly 75 jobs, according to union officials, and electing not to fill some 25 vacancies. But the company is pressing for more savings now.Dallas-based A.H. Belo Corp., which owns the ProJo, the Dallas Morning News and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California, has asked members of the Providence Newspaper Guild, which represents editorial and advertising staff, to take pay cuts as part of a broader push for some $10 million in salary givebacks company-wide.The pay cuts range from 2.5 percent for employees making $25,000 to $75,000 (virtually all members of the Guild) to 15 percent for those making over $225,000. A.H. Belo can unilaterally impose the cuts on some employees, but Guild members - who have a contract calling for a 2 percent pay hike this year - must agree to give up the dough.The company offered Guild members three additional personal days in exchange for the cuts. But Guild President John Hill said the union wanted more than that - asking for a no-layoff guarantee for the life of the union's contract, a one-year extension of that contract from 2010 to 2011, and additional personal days beyond the three offered by the company, among other things.

Hill said managers strongly suggested, in a recent meeting, that "they were not really there to negotiate" and would offer no more than the three personal days. But the top brass has not yet formally responded to the union's counter-offer.

This is a tricky business, this pay cut request. The obvious concern, especially for younger staffers low on the seniority list: the company will pink slip employees if the union doesn't accept the pay cut. But Hill says management has assured the Guild that a pay cut refusal will not trigger layoffs.

Meanwhile, members of the Guild voted this week to file a grievance with management - the first step in any labor dispute - after the company asked to delay, for seven months, some $1.2 million in payments it was scheduled to drop into some employees' 401(k) plans March 30.The payments are owed to employees hired before July 1, 2004. Those employees were part of a pension plan that A.H. Belo froze in 2007. And the company offered to make five annual payments to the workers' 401(k) plans as compensation for the freeze.Last year's payment came on time. But the company pushed for a delay this year. The union agreed to a one-month stay while members chewed over the request. But on Tuesday, the rank-and-file voted to file the grievance, Hill said.

ProJo publisher Howard Sutton did not return a call for comment this afternoon.

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