Lee Bankruptcy Update

Dec 28, 2011 by

 

 

The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware has scheduled a Disclosure Statement Hearing for 2:00 p.m. on January 23.

 

As reported earlier, there appear to be no major obstacles to this process going forward and there have been no filings to indicate that Lee will attempt to cut employee benefits or gut any collective bargaining agreements.  As things stand, it is possible that Lee could emerge from bankruptcy as quickly as 10 days after the hearing.

 

As mentioned in a previous post, all lawsuits are stayed during this process, so the discovery process that we were undergoing for our retiree medical lawsuits has been put on hold until all this is over; likewise the depositions that were scheduled for mid-January.  Still, such a quick emergence should only push things back a month or two.  A recent statement from the court states:

“the Court concludes that the case should be administratively closed until such time as the bankruptcy proceedings have been concluded or Court action is otherwise required.

 

We will keep you advised as events unfold.

 

 

 

 

read more

Related Posts

Tags

Share This

Lee Files Chapter 11

Dec 13, 2011 by

 

Lee Enterprises formally submitted the necessary paperwork in Wilmington, Deleware bankruptcy court this morning to refinance its roughly one billion dollar debt.

 

Lee’s action came after the media corporation announced last week that it would enter into Chapter 11.  That announcement understandably upset current and former employees, as they wondered what impact, if any, the filing would have on their lives and burned up the phone lines between those individuals and this office.

 

Our initial discussions with P-D management were met with assurances that Lee had no intention of scrapping collective bargaining agreements or using the bankruptcy court to negate our federal litigation surrounding retiree medical benefits.  However, in those first 24 to 48 hours, those assurances were vague and did not provide us with the certainty we were seeking (to be fair, I am not suggesting that anyone was withholding information, what I think was more likely is that those to whom we were speaking were not yet in possession of all the facts).  Now, while that was proceeding, the Guild was huddling with attorneys, some at our international in DC, as well as others who specialize in bankruptcy law at various points on the map.  During this time we didn’t post much on this site because we didn’t want to jump the gun, get it wrong and misinform anyone.  Other than acknowledging Lee’s announcement, we made a decision to wait until we had a better understanding of just how things would play out before stating anything unequivocally.

 

Bankruptcy law is (hopefully) not something the average person comes into contact with, so there is often quite a bit of confusion on just how such things proceed. Most people understand that creditors are often forced to take less than what they are owed (‘haircut’ is the term used in the industry) and make the assumption that everything is up for grabs.  Such is not always the case; it depends on the filing.  In Lee’s case, this is a prepackaged filing and most of the creditors (94%) have already agreed to terms.

 

Collective bargaining agreements can get a haircut in bankruptcy court but the corporation must file under section 1113 of the code.  Retiree benefits, by the way, fall under section 1114.  Those two sections have a somewhat higher bar, so to speak, offering more protection for employees and retirees than normal creditors or vendors.  Still, a corporation can file and try to make the claim that they need relief in order to remain viable.  In more recent conversations with P-D management, they have assured this office that both CEO Mary Junck and CFO Carl Schmidt have stated such filings would not occur and all indications are that they were telling us the truth.  In filing their plan of reorganization today, Lee stated (section 6.3, page 31) that they were assuming (as opposed to rejecting) all collective bargaining agreements.  So that’s certainly good news for Post-Dispatch employees.

 

Our retirees should know that, when a corporation goes into bankruptcy, any lawsuit in which it is involved is automatically stayed.  And the court can deal with those lawsuits and decide them.  Today, Lee also submitted paperwork detailing their how they want the bankruptcy court to deal with all their pending litigation (besides ours, the corporation is involved with three other suits).  That is found in Section G (pages 35 and 36) of Lee’s Solicitation and Disclosure Statement and reads:

“The Prospective Debtors anticipate that, to the extent any litigation is not resolved
prior to the Effective Date of the Plan and/or removed by the Debtors to federal court consistent with their powers under applicable law, such litigation will continue after the Effective Date in the forum(s) in which it was initiated.”

 

Our attorneys are still going over all this with a fine-tooth comb but it appears that the bankruptcy judge will refrain from getting involved in our litigation and, upon emerging from bankruptcy (hoped by Lee to be within 45-60 days), both parties will pick up where they left off with the retiree medical lawsuit.

 

When a corporation files for Chapter 11 protection, its unsecured creditors can call for the formation of a creditors committee.  Being on that creditors committee means more influence in determining how things are going to get resolved.  Arguments among unhappy committee members could keep a corporation in bankruptcy, delaying its emergence for months, even years. The Guild is well-aware of the potential here to inject itself into the proceedings and perhaps have the tail wag the dog for a while but such knowledge must be tempered by our guiding principal to never cause harm to a member or to do anything that might put their jobs at risk.  Raising hell on a creditors committee (fun as that might be) might only succeed in delaying Lee’s recovery and cause more belt-tightening (read layoffs) at the paper.  We can’t concern ourselves with just one aspect of this; we’ve got to step back and view this thing in its entirety.

 

TNG has seen numerous corporations file for bankruptcy and – in all but one instance – has managed to get itself appointed to the unsecured creditors committee (Media News was the exception and the reason was because it was a prepackaged filing and there was no unsecured creditors committee).  Events seem to be unfolding just as Lee said they would and we presently have no reason to believe that a creditors committee will be formed.  Also, with no apparent attack on our contact or our lawsuit, we have no plans to call for one.

 

Still, The Guild is well aware of all that could still go south and we are watching. And if, over the next few days we suddenly think for some reason that our members rights are at risk we would not hesitate for call for one at once.

 

I hope this provides a little clearer understanding for our members and I hope that each one of you has a safe and happy holiday season.

 

 

 

 


 

read more

Related Posts

Tags

Share This

Lee announces it will file for bankruptcy

Dec 2, 2011 by

Today Lee Enterprises announced plans to file a “pre-packaged” Chapter 11 bankruptcy to restructure part of it’s debt. Read the updated story in the Post-Dispatch here.

The Guild is working to figure out exactly what it means for the employees and what to expect next. We will update unitedmediaguild.com when we get more details.

We immediately put a call into Astrid Garcia, VP HR, Labor, Operations at The St Louis Post -Dispatch, because of the bankruptcy she is unable to immediately speak to what the impact on the Guild employees would be.  But she working to get answers from Davenport on a list of questions we asked her about how the bankruptcy will effect people at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

When we get more information we’ll update this blog posting.

Also follow us on twitter @UMediaGuild for updates

****Update****

The Guild’s Treasurer, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch Business writer Jim Gallagher had these thoughts about today’s announcement.

“Lee is filing a “pre-packaged” bankruptcy.  This means that the vast majority of creditors have reached a refinancing agreement, but they need the authority of the court to force the deal on the dissenters.

Lee has two levels of debt.  It says it has 94 percent of creditor agreement to the largest level of debt, and 100 percent agreement on the smaller level of debt.
Dissenters may argue that the agreement is unfair.  But if what Lee says is true, they should be able to force this agreement through.  The company says that should take less than 60 days.

If all goes as Lee plans, our Guild contract will survive.  If Lee planned to try to change it, they would have contacted us by now.  They know that an effort to change that contract through bankruptcy would push this deal well, well beyond 60 days.

The deal will have Lee paying 9 percent interest on its debt as opposed to 5 percent under the current deal.  This ought to be manageable for them — they say it is — as long as revenues hold up. That, of course, is an iffy proposition.

However, the higher interest payments will keep Lee focused on cost control, which means tight budgets, possibly for years to come.”

Astrid Garcia called back and said she couldn’t give an specifics or statements on the bankruptcy. But said she hoped our questions could be answered during a 6pm news conference that Lee held.  She declined to give us a phone number to dial into the press conference.  Post-Dispatch reporters covering the story were able to join the press conference.

In an email exchange with Bernie Lunzer, Newspaper Guild-CWA President, on Friday evening he expressed confidence things would be alright ” it’s a “pre-packaged” bankruptcy and should leave the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) intact. We’ll want legal advice of course. I’m thinking it will be okay though.”

If we get any more information this weekend we’ll post it here.  If you have any questions you can email the Guild at this address unitedmediaguild@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.

 

 

 

 

read more

Related Posts

Tags

Share This