Teamsters', machinists' contract rejections hold up closing of newspaper deal

Stephen Raslavich, the federal bankruptcy judge trying to shepherd the Daily News and Inquirer to new ownership, met for three hours yesterday with lawyers, union representatives and business executives, but the parties emerged from the private discussions with little to say about the newspapers' immediate future.

Today is the scheduled closing date for a deal that would turn over the papers and their Web site, Philly.com, to a new company called Philadelphia Media Network.

The new firm is owned by a group of hedge funds and other financial firms that bid $105 million in cash for the papers at a bankruptcy auction in April.

But the deal is contingent on the new owners reaching contract agreements with 14 different union bargaining units.

Two of them, representing delivery-truck drivers and machinists, voted Sunday to reject contract proposals that would end company contributions to their defined-benefit pension plans.

As of early last night, neither union had scheduled further negotiations with the newspapers, though John Laigaie, president of Teamsters Local 628, representing the drivers, said that he expected to hear shortly from Bob Hall, the new owners' chief operating officer and lead negotiator.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Laigaie said. "Nobody does. We haven't been involved in anything like this before."

Both Hall and the new owners' chief executive officer, Greg Osberg, declined comment as they left the meeting with Raslavich.

All that the participants would disclose was a plan to return to Raslavich's courtroom early this afternoon.