Lee Enterprises paid out $750,000 in bonuses while laying off employees
St. Louis – St. Louis Post Dispatch employees are demanding corporate leaders at the paper’s parent company, Lee Enterprises, return the bonuses they were awarded for steering the company through bankruptcy.
Those bonuses – $500,000 for CEO Mary Junck and $250,000 for CFO Carl Schmidt – were awarded last month within days of layoffs at Lee newspapers in Montana, California, Wyoming and here at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.
They were awarded even as Lee cut retiree health benefits, forced employees to take unpaid furloughs, froze pensions, cut pay and laid off hundreds of employees across the country.
OUT OF TOUCH
Shannon Duffy, business representative for the United Media Guild – the Post’s largest union – says the company’s corporate leadership is as out of touch as 18th Century French Royalty.
To drive home that point, the Guild held a “Let Them Eat Cake” protest outside the Post-Dispatch last week.
Everyone in attendance received a cupcake from the union bakery at Schnucks.
“Since when does tanking a company rate a bonus?” Duffy asked the approximately 60 Post employees and retirees who turned out for the event. “For a corporation that saw its stock plummet from $40 per share when it purchased the Pulitzer chain in 2005 to just over a buck-a-share today, it’s unbelievable that Lee’s board of directors would reward that kind of performance.”
The Guild also sent a letter and petition to Lee’s board of directors, calling for the bonuses to be invested in the company’s employees, to rescind this year’s scheduled furloughs, or to pay down Lee’s debts or help the family of Robert Douglas, a Post-Dispatch retiree who died a few months ago after Lee cut off his health care benefits.
RENEGED ON PROMISES
Douglas’s daughter, Erica Douglas was among the speakers at last week’s protest.
“My father helped people all his life,” Erica Douglas said. “But when he needed help, the company that he spent his life serving threw him out and reneged on its promises.”
Robert Douglas suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure but was unable to get health care or the medicine he needed. He died alone in his home. He was 59.
DO THE MATH
Other speakers included Guild Local President Jeff Gordon, Post-Dispatch retiree Rich Hughes and Shop Steward and advertising sales representative Sean Sullivan.
Sullivan did the math and broke down the amount of health care coverage the bonuses paid to Junck and Schmidt would have paid for.
“That would have awarded 1,293 people medical coverage for a month,” Sullivan said. “It would have gotten 107 people their medical premiums covered for an entire calendar year.”
Duffy, the Guild’s business representative, is quick to point out that the union’s complaint is not with the local management at the Post-Dispatch.
“We don’t’ have a problem with the supervisors in this building,” Duffy said. “This is a corporate thing. This is systemic. This is what is happening in America. You have these big corporations running roughshod over their employees. It’s deplorable.”
Lee, based in Davenport, Iowa, owns the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and 47 other newspapers. Lee also owns 300 specialty publications and has a joint interest in four others dailies.
Lee filed a "pre-packaged" bankruptcy petition in December and emerged in January still carrying almost $1 billion in long-term debt.
Lee acquired the bulk of its debt when it bought Pulitzer Inc. for $1.46 billion in 2005. Pulitzer owned the Post-Dispatch, the Suburban Journalsand 13 smaller daily newspapers.