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Sun-Times Media, Chicago Tribune enter into print production contract

The Sun-Times will close its printing plant 2800 S. Ashleliminate about 400 jobs. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times

The Sun-Times will close its printing plant at 2800 S. Ashland and eliminate about 400 jobs. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 21, 2011 9:01AM

The Chicago Tribune will begin printing the Chicago Sun-Times and seven of its suburban sister newspapers under an agreement announced Tuesday.

Jeremy Halbreich, chairman of Sun-Times Media LLC, said the deal will save the company more than $10 million a year and allow investment in editorial content and advertising sales. But the agreement is born of grim economic trends in the newspaper business and will cost about 400 workers their jobs.

The affected employees work at the Sun-Times’ printing plant at 2800 S. Ashland, which will be closed. The printing will move to the Tribune’s Freedom Center plant at 777 W. Chicago starting in late September.

“This has been a very, very difficult decision,” Halbreich said. “But in my role, I have got to do things that keep our newspapers in business.”

He said the papers in Sun-Times Media’s ownership will benefit from greater capacity for color printing, which includes the ability to sell more color advertising. With the agreement, the company exits the newspaper printing and distribution business. The Tribune already distributes the Sun-Times and the suburban papers under an agreement dating from 2007.

Halbreich emphasized that Sun-Times Media publications will remain independent.

Most of the 400 workers to be laid off are union members. Halbreich said all are receiving 60 days’ notice of termination in keeping with state law, although some jobs may last a little longer.

Frank Golden, business representative for Teamsters Local 458, one of the unions at the Ashland plant, said the company may be violating federal law by outsourcing work that’s part of a collective bargaining agreement. “The cost savings here don’t benefit anybody but the investors in the paper,” he said.

Golden said the unions will study any option to preserve members’ jobs. Halbreich said the company is confident it has the right to move production.

He also said Tribune will hire up to 100 people to handle the new work and could choose some of the Sun-Times’ workers. A mix of union and non-union staff handles Tribune printing and distribution.

Besides the Sun-Times, which this year won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, the agreement covers the Beacon-News in Aurora,
the Courier-News in Elgin, the Herald-News in Joliet, the Lake County News-Sun, the Post-Tribune in Merrillville, Ind., the SouthtownStar and the Naperville Sun.

The company’s Pioneer Press chain of weeklies will continue to be printed in Milwaukee.

Halbreich said the Tribune plant can handle the work without changing deadlines or delivery schedules for the Sun-Times papers. He said declines in circulation at the Tribune have rendered 30 percent to 40 percent of its presses idle, even though the plant produces local editions of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Investor’s Business Daily.

The Sun-Times opened its $100 million printing center in 1999 and over the years consolidated the suburban papers’ production at that location.

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