PITTSBURGH — Teamsters union members overwhelmingly approved a contract Sunday with Blade Communications Inc., which owns one of the city's two strikebound daily newspapers and may buy the other.
The Teamsters voted 498-14 in favor of the contract, which could cut up to 40% of its 627 jobs over the next five years. Their approval was a major step toward ending a strike that has idled both the Pittsburgh Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since May 17.
Teamsters Local 211 walked off the job that day, and the lengthy strike eventually prompted E. W. Scripps to put the Press up for sale.
Also Sunday, unions for the newspapers' printers, mailers, pressmen, paper handlers and electrical workers announced that they also ratified contracts with Blade Communications.
With the contract approvals, the only stumbling block left before Blade Communications, owner of the Post-Gazette, can buy the Press is a ruling by the U.S. Justice Department.
The Justice Department is to rule no later than Jan. 15, and as soon as the ruling is delivered, publication is to resume.
Woodene Merriman, the assistant managing editor of the Post-Gazette, said newsroom employees were eager to return to work.
"We're very excited and delighted and all those things," Merriman said.
Blade Communications had already reached a deal with Scripps to buy the Press, contingent on agreements with the unions that produced and distributed both papers for Pittsburgh Press Co.
Tentative agreements have now been reached with all of the unions. Locals of the Operating Engineers, Service Employees International, Platemakers and Machinists ratified agreements last week.
Scripps told Blade Communications that it had to settle with the unions by Nov. 30 or the deal was off.
Joseph Pass, an attorney representing the Teamsters and several other unions, said terms of the tentative deals were more than satisfactory.
The Post-Gazette business manager, Raymond Burnett, said union negotiating committees had promised to recommend ratification.
Before the strike, Press Co. published the Press and printed and distributed the Post-Gazette.
The Press had a circulation of 209,000 Monday through Saturday afternoons and 556,000 on Sunday mornings. The Post-Gazette circulation was 154,000 Monday through Saturday mornings.
Merriman said Blade Communications' plans call for one morning newspaper to hit the stands beginning in January.
"The strike has just gone on too long" to bring back both papers, she said. "The suburban papers have made inroads, and advertisers have found other outlets.
"Our choice would be to have a six-day morning paper and a Sunday paper," she said, although the company has yet to settle on a name or a logo for the new newspaper.
The Post-Gazette had 156 reporters and editors and the Press had 218 editorial employees when the strike began. Press employees have been interviewed by Blade officials, although no decision has been reached on how many will be hired, Merriman said.
"We will hire from the Press as many as we need" to staff the editorial department of the new paper, she said.
Drivers went on strike to prevent implementation of a regional distribution center that would have eliminated about 75% of their jobs. The tentative pact with Blade Communications calls for cutting about 40% of the drivers' jobs over five years.