Tierney and the Teamsters? God Help Us

How greed is jeopardizing thousands of jobs at the Inquirer and Daily News

Webster’s defines greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed.”

But there should be another entry: Teamsters Local 628.

You see, these are the guys who destroyed months of work by those trying to resurrect the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News papers. The Teamsters were the ONLY union out of 16 who chose not to negotiate in good faith (READ: common sense) with the papers’ prospective new owners. [SIGNUP]

In doing so, they have jeopardized thousands of jobs.

The deal is off, and the papers are going back on the auction block.
Worse still, former publisher Brian Tierney, whom the Teamsters unabashedly supported, is not out of the newspaper business yet.
In fact, Tierney allies Raymond Perelman, a billionaire who bid with the Tierney group during the last auction, and the carpenters union, which lost every penny of its original pension fund investment but mysteriously keeps throwing more money on the table — have once again submitted a bid.

God help us.

* * *

It was under Tierney’s reign that the newspapers were driven into bankruptcy.

When investors backing Tierney bought the papers in 2006, the “local ownership” angle was spun by the former PR exec as being the saving grace of journalism in the state. Local ownership of the papers, we were told, would produce the stories that mattered — the ones the public was thirsting to read.

Instead, it became the exact opposite.

Thorough “no sacred cows” reporting virtually died, with only two major investigative stories being produced in Tierney’s four years at the helm.
Given the papers’ vast resources, coverage of Philadelphia’s corruption could have, and should have, produced daily stories.

But it didn’t happen.

And in the area that provided the lowest-hanging fruit — the administration of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, with more conflicts than could be counted — there was virtually nothing of substance coming from the papers.

Where were the stories on the Delaware River Port Authority’s unchecked conflicts and cronyism? The Philadelphia Housing Authority and its widespread abuses? The millions upon millions of secretive no-bid contracts doled out to huge campaign donors — including Ballard Spahr, the guv’s former firm and a huge beneficiary of the Administration’s largesse?

In fact, Ballard was so cozy with Rendell that it performed $773,000 in legal work for the state — with NO contract.

And where was the state’s biggest media watchdog, with its vaunted local ownership, for any of these stories?

Nowhere to be found.

Pathetically, it seemed that the most important question the Inky’s reporters asked the Governor was his thoughts on the prospect of an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.

The journalistic demise of the once-proud papers should have come as no surprise, however, given Tierney’s close relationship with Rendell.
After all, Tierney sought a taxpayer-funded bailout of his ailing papers from Rendell himself. Millions were on the table, from “economic development” grants to state pension investments to housing state workers in the Inquirer building.

That’s right. Publisher Tierney expected the public to believe that the papers would have objectively covered Ed Rendell and state government issues despite the Governor’s saving the company from bankruptcy.
Just as disturbing, though, was that Rendell was ready, willing and able to oblige.

Until the deal was exposed by a media entity not afraid to tackle the tough issues, wherever they led.

A week later, the papers filed for bankruptcy. Following a bitter dispute lasting over a year, the creditors finally took control after winning the bankruptcy auction.

Or so we thought.

Enter the Teamsters.

* * *

More often than not, rank-and-file union members are not to blame when their union does something greedy or idiotic (which, this being Philadelphia, happens a lot).

Union workers rightfully place faith in their leaders, with the reasonable expectation that Leadership will act in the best interest of the members.
The Teamsters’ rejection of a more-than-fair offer that would have guaranteed members’ employment while improving the health of the company falls into the “idiotic and greedy” category.

Like the one bad apple that spoils the whole bunch, the Teamsters leadership succeeded only in getting the worst of all worlds (short of Tierney regaining control).

They have incurred the wrath of the public (which they clearly don’t care about), but also that of the other unions.

What makes the Teamsters’ greed incomprehensible is that the original auction agreement was in their interest, since it mandated that the owners finalize agreements with all unions prior to the deal closing. But because of the Teamsters’ holdout, the new auction rules will not have that provision.

And Teamsters President John Laigaie calls that progress.

“The way they look at it, they now have another chance to fight another day,” he said, speaking of his members.

Sure they do. And where will they be fighting? On the unemployment line? It’s a very real possibility.

The Newspaper Guild, whose membership had come to terms with the prospective new owners, was furious at their not-in-solidarity comrades.

In a statement, Guild President Dan Gross berated the action of a “lone union” whose conduct served to “jeopardize thousands of jobs and the entire company by hijacking and derailing the closing process.”

“Highjacking and derailing”? This, from one union to another? So much for solidarity.

And all because the Teamsters didn’t want to switch from their pension fund to either a generous 401K plan offered by the company or a retirement fund jointly administered by the union and the company.
Common sense suggests that the Teamsters’ leadership has been living on another planet, not aware that we are hemorrhaging jobs in a severe recession. Or is there a more sinister motive, with the retirement objection being a red-herring designed solely to kill the deal, perhaps so a different ownership could seize the day?

Either way, such intransigence is inexcusable.

Bottom line: the Teamsters’ leadership needs a reality check.

Just as important, the unions who publicly lambasted the Teamsters should be commended for their courage. Management and Labor will always have their disputes, but as long as the ultimate goal on both sides is continued employment and growth, common-sense agreements can always be reached.

Otherwise, as the old saying goes, the greedy pig gets nothing.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”
Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX 29. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com.