Teamsters Urge FCC to Protect Public Interest; Give Employee Owners Voice at Tribune

Jun 15, 2010, 13:54 ET from International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Petitions FCC to Deny Tribune's Waiver Requests to Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rules

WASHINGTON, June 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Teamsters Union has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deny Chicago-based Tribune Co.'s application for reorganization and for waivers of its broadcast cross-ownership rules – meant to protect localism and diversity in programming – until the owners of the company, Tribune employees, have their say.  


Although the FCC has long held that giving third parties control over station personnel, programming, and finances violates the Communications Act, the commission allowed precisely that when in 2007 it approved a change in control and granted waivers to the Tribune Co. needed to complete its going private transaction.

While 100 percent ownership of the Tribune was transferred to employees through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), control was given to billionaire Sam Zell, who became chairman and CEO. Despite their ownership, the employees had no say in selecting the trustee of the ESOP or the members of the Tribune's board of directors.

"The FCC wrongly allowed real estate mogul Sam Zell to force Tribune employee-owners to the sidelines as he saddled them with an untenable $13 billion of debt and took full control of the company they own," said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. "This not only violated the law, it led to a wholesale slash and burn strategy that forced the company to eliminate thousands of good jobs, sell off valuable assets, and cut news resources to the bone."

In order to emerge from bankruptcy as a reorganized company, the Tribune must secure FCC waivers to its broadcast cross-ownership rules in the Chicago and Hartford-New Haven markets. The FCC also must approve the transfer of ownership of the company, post-bankruptcy, to its creditors.  

"We're talking about creditors here, not broadcasters. What assurances do communities

have that local news programming will be protected?" Hoffa said. "Tribune's employees,

who live and work in the affected communities, have an interest in the long-term survival and growth of this company as well as in the programming and coverage it provides their hometowns. As the outgoing owners, they should be given the opportunity to approve the application before it is considered by the FCC in order to best protect the public interest."

The Teamsters petition, filed Monday, urges the commission to deny the application or hold it in abeyance until Tribune's board has been reconstituted in accordance with commission requirements and the reconstituted board has had an opportunity to pass on the application. Nothing in the proposed bankruptcy plan commits the creditors, who will emerge as the new owners, to maintain or improve upon the quantity of local news programming.

Founded in 1903, the Teamsters Union represents more than 1.4 million hardworking men and women in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, including about 750 who work for Tribune and tens of thousands of members and retirees residing in the affected markets, including the markets for which cross-ownership waivers are being sought.

SOURCE International Brotherhood of Teamsters