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News Companies at Odds: Four Years after Its Death, the Pittsburgh Press Inspires Lawsuit from Former Partner

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

News Companies at Odds: Four Years after Its Death, the Pittsburgh Press Inspires Lawsuit from Former Partner

Article excerpt

Four years after breaking up their Pittsburgh joint operating agency in the wake of an eight-month labor strike that killed the Pittsburgh Press, former partners Scripps Howard Inc. and Blade Communications are now courtroom adversaries.

At issue is approximately $6.4 million Scripps Howard paid to settle claims by former employees of its Pittsburgh Press who were not hired by the surviving Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, owned by Blade Communications.

Scripps wants Blade to pay it back for that settlement. In a lawsuit filed this fall in the Court of Common Pleas in Hamilton County, Ohio, Scripps accuses Blade of pulling a fast one in the last days before Scripps sold the Press to Blade.

In the suit, Scripps says it devised the severance plan for Press employees relying on assurances from Blade that Blade intended to make job offers to about three-quarters of the 500 of the Press editorial and business office employees to work at what was to be a bigger, monopoly Post-Gazette.

The severance package included pay calculated at a rate of one week's wages for each six months of employment up to a maximum of 50 weeks, pay. No severance would be paid to employees who were offered a job by Blade by Jan. 1, 1993, a day after the sale was to close.

As part of the sale of the Press, Scripps says in the suit, it paid approximately $3 million in benefits to approximately 135 Press editorial and business office employees who were not offered jobs in the Post-Gazette. No money was offered to another 350 or so Press editorial and business office employees because Scripps believed they had received job offers from the Post-Gazette, Scripps says in the lawsuit.

What Scripps did not know, it says in the lawsuit, was that Blade never made job offers to the remaining employees.

Scripps says it had good reason to believe essentially all those employees were going to the Post-Gazette. It alleges, for instance, that on Dec. 30, 1992 - the day before the asset exchange sale formally closed - the Post-Gazette sent a letter to Press employees "informing them that they would be enrolled in the PG's insurance programs effective Jan. 1, 1993, thereby representing to Plaintiffs and leading Plantiffs reasonably to believe that these employees had already been offered jobs or would be offered jobs before Jan. 1, 1993."

In addition, the Scripps suit claims, the Post-Gazette sent Scripps a draft press release that quoted Blade chairman William Block Sr. as stating, "We welcome our [1,300] employees back to work."

Block made similar comments in a radio interview the morning the sale closed, Scripps says in the suit. …

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