Ten days after the Philadelphia Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz died in a private plane crash, his son Drew has chosen not to follow through with plans to purchase its parent company. Now a local newspaper union is expressing concerns about the future of the 185-year-old, 19-time Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.
Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, said union leaders are planning to speak with Katz Wednesday afternoon in an effort to convince him to reconsider. “We thought that maybe Drew was the hope to save this enterprise,” Ross told International Business Times.
In a statement late Tuesday, Drew Katz cited the “turmoil” of dealing with his father’s recent death as reason for backing out of the $88 million sale at the last minute. The local website BigTrial.net reported that the 42-year-old Katz was not getting along with his father’s business partner, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, an entrepreneur and noted Philadelphia-area philanthropist. Katz denied that there was any friction between the two. Either way, his decision to back out leaves Lenfest as the sole buyer of the Inquirer’s parent company, Interstate General Media LLC (IGM), which also owns the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com.
Along with a consortium of area business leaders, Lenfest bought ownership in the papers in 2012. He and the elder Katz had just completed a buyout of IGM when Katz was killed with six other people in a Massachusetts plane crash on May 31.
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But Ross said Lenfest has a history of tough, anti-union bargaining tactics, including a threat to liquidate IGM if the guild didn’t open contract negotiations several months early in 2012 and agree to millions of dollars in concessions. “He basically said we would ‘feel pain’ if we didn’t do it,” Ross said. “So we did it, along with 12 other unions, who collectively gave up $28 million in concessions to help a couple of billionaires and millionaires who own this company.”
The guild, part of the Newspaper Guild-CWA, represents about 500 IGM employees. Ross said he’s still hoping that Drew Katz, who has a background in advertising, will go through with the deal and carry out his father’s legacy. “He’s been successful in advertising, and we thought maybe this was a good fit,” he said.