The Sun’s Port Covington printing plant. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
The Sun’s Port Covington printing plant. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The Baltimore Sun’s newsroom union agreed to permanent pay cuts for employees making $67,000 per year or more and to furloughs, two cost-cutting measures proposed by Tribune Publishing under the threat of layoffs, the union said.

The Baltimore Sun Guild, the newspaper’s unit within the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, said management was threatening to lay off five newsroom staffers next week.

“Our members were willing to make sacrifices in these troubling times to save their colleagues’ jobs,” the union said, later adding, “We care too much about our community and each other to let that happen right now.”

Under the agreement, employees making between $67,000 and $75,000 per year would take a 2 percent pay cut and those making $75,000 a year or more would take a 3 percent reduction. Both groups will also be furloughed for one week.

“Most” of the people making less than $67,000 per year will be furloughed for three weeks, the union said.

The guild, representing reporters, designers, photographers, building staff and some ads team members, said these slashes came despite the newspaper’s continued profitability. The union felt management at Baltimore Sun Media Group and Tribune “was adamant about permanent pay cuts because they are using the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to chip away at our strong contract.”

By taking reduced pay and furloughs, members of the guild have staved off any job losses for the month of May, the union said. If two staffers take buyout offers with severance pay, there won’t be any layoffs through June 30.

The Sun‘s newsroom is reportedly down to 80 reporters, editors and photographers, both union and non-union, after having as many as 205 staffers as recently as 2009.

Representatives from Baltimore Sun Media Group and Tribune Publishing did not immediately return a request for comment.

On April 21, Tribune announced three-week furloughs for non-union employees who make between $40,000 and $67,000 a year and permanent pay cuts, ranging from 2 to 10 percent, for non-union workers making more.

Those reductions applied to editors at the paper, some ads staff and members of management.

In a letter announcing those cuts, Tribune Publishing CEO Terry Jimenez said the company could not avoid the advertising collapse many other companies in the news industry had suffered due to the pandemic.

Jimenez previously said he would forego his salary for two weeks and take a 10 percent cut, totaling a 13.8 percent decrease in his income. All members of the board of directors also took a 13.8 percent pay cut, he said.

Tribune Publishing owns The Sun, the Chicago TribuneNew York Daily NewsOrlando SentinelHartford CourantThe Virginian-Pilot and other outlets.

The Baltimore Sun Guild yesterday renewed a campaign, which it is calling Save Our Sun, to have a group of local owners acquire the newspaper and run it as a nonprofit.

The Baltimore Business Journal reported early this year that some journalists reached out to Abell Foundation, the Goldseker Foundation, developer David Cordish, former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis and others who have expressed interest in acquiring The Sun to see if they would mount a bid to buy it.

The outreach came after Alden Global Capital, described as a ‘destroyer of newspapers,’ acquired a 32 percent stake in Tribune and two seats on its board.

In a release from Thursday about the Save Our Sun effort, Venetoulis and Goldseker president and CEO Matthew D. Gallagher are quoted touting the benefits of bringing The Sun under local ownership. Abell Foundation president Robert C. Embry Jr., who has also tried to acquire the paper in the past, is also on board, the release said.

By going nonprofit and following outlets such as the Texas Tribune and Salt Lake Tribune, the paper’s revenue could be reinvested into the newsroom to keep coverage robust, the release said.

“We started Save Our Sun to ensure we have the resources we need to keep doing our jobs, preserve newspapering in Baltimore and prepare a national model for local communities to buy their newspaper back,” Liz Bowie, an education reporter and union leader, said in a statement. “We believe that local control will provide better stewardship of The Sun, while also protecting jobs and bringing better benefits and working conditions.”

The release said Tribune has given no indication it plans to sell The Sun. But Gallagher, when reached by the Poynter Institute, said the company is aware of the group’s interest.

“Tribune has been approached and has responded,” he said. “I can’t say more, but this is a strong, well-resourced local effort.”

Speaking with Baltimore Fishbowl on Friday, Gallagher expressed concern over the salary decreases and furloughs.

“It’s in Baltimore’s best interests to have a very robust Baltimore Sun,” he said. “Every single day we’re seeing the quality of what their coverage is.”

Gallagher declined to offer specifics on the offer but reiterated that the foundations involved are civic-minded and have the necessary resources.

The date of July 1 offers a time-sensitive element to the equation. Under its initial agreement with Tribune, Alden can begin acquiring a larger stake in the company on that day.

But Gallagher noted that Embry and Venetoulis have been interested in acquiring the paper for many years, well before Alden even entered the picture.

“This is something that’s been playing out over a long period of time,” he said.

If the acquisition eventually goes through, Gallagher said the nonprofit model could stabilize the region’s largest daily newspaper.

“Return expectations are vastly different when being compared to a hedge fund,” he said. “Our hope is with that kind of approach, if this were to come to pass, we could position The Sun on much more stable footing going forward and can reinvest back into the paper.”

This story has been updated.

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...