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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"There is, as of today, only one bidder" — Halbreich

Posted By on 09.29.09 at 07:38 PM

In Tuesday's memo to the troops, interim Sun-Times Media Group CEO Jeremy Halbreich asserted that despite reports that somebody new is talking about entering next week's bankruptcy court auction, "there is, as of today, only one bidder for the Company's assets." And that's financier James Tyree's investment group, whose leader "has repeatedly expressed his enthusiasm for the papers and Web sites going forward. These are the kind of owners that will be very good for our print and online publications and for our employees."

Thomas Thibeault, executive director of the Chicago Newspaper Guild, all of whose units have roundly rejected the terms Tyree has set, says that he began talking to the head of a second possible investment group about two weeks ago. “They reached out to the union first,” Thibeault told Crain's Chicago Business, but he acknowledges that Tyree had also approached the guild early on for off-the-record talks. "We expressed the same concerns I expressed to this [second] gentleman, and you kind of know what happened there," Thibeault told me Tuesday.

Thiibeault doesn't want his union gutted, and guild leaders believe that's what Tyree is demanding — that his terms would see the guild surrendering all its jurisdictional authority over the jobs of its members, who among other things would surrender weeks of severance and face another wave of layoffs anyway.

Thibeault said the new tire-kicker is a figure of some consequence around Chicago, certainly someone to take seriously. But "I didn’t really read him that well. What's his game plan I don’t know."

Halbreich said in his latest memo that if another bidder does come in, "there's no guarantee [he won't] formally reject the union contracts altogether, or significantly reduce jobs. This is not the plan of the Tyree group." He pointed out that four crafts unions have voted for Tyree's deal — the Sun-Times's paperhandlers, pressmen, teamsters, and machinists. And he noted that Tuesday was "the target date ... for all of our collective bargaining units to agree to concessions requested by the Buyer. The date's purpose was to create an orderly, smooth process between now and the aunction" on October 7. "The long-term goal of this process remains to ensure a soft landing for all of our print and online publications and to secure jobs for our employees."

The target date, which Halbreich construed as a deadline until the bankruptcy judge said it wasn't, hasn't been met. But although Halbreich asserted "the situation facing the Company grows more dire" he didn't claim that missing the target was catastrophic. "The bottom line," he concluded: "This bidder has presented a wonderful opportunity and lifeline for our publications and jobs. There remains hope."

Here's a pdf of the complete memo.

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