The Trib's Bonus Babies

Union gets crack at data

A handful of newspaper union leaders will soon get a glimpse at how greedy Tribune Company executives really are. 

A judge has ruled that those union leaders -- who're from the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents 225 workers at the Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun -- can take a look at the company's controversial plan to award hundreds of millions of dollars to its "key" employees.

These bonuses have been scrutinized because the paper has been laying off thousands of employees while trying to work its way out of bankruptcy court.

But Tribune employees (and the public) will be kept in the dark - unless the plan is, you know, accidentally leaked to the press.

That's because the judge agreed to limit distribution of the plan's details - and also to keep a consultant's report, which is the basis of the plan, sealed.

"It's going only to the Guild," Judge Kevin Carey ruled, denying the Guild's request to share the information with other unions, including those that joined in its objection to the bonus plan.

Meanwhile, the Tribune Company is engaging in that ironic sort of secrecy that media organizations have mastered so well. It goes:  everybody else's business is our business too, but our business is nobody's business.

Frankly, the Tribune's business sucks.

Despite flailing in the pit of financial despair, the Tribune Company wants to reward nine top executives for the wonderful year they've had with $3 million to be split among them.

Such a gesture!

The company also wants permission to maintain an incentive plan that would pay out up to $45.6 million to 700 really important employees, including its top 10 executives.

The incentive plan for reporters is to figure out how to avoid being laid off so an executive can get a bonus for really excellent cost-cutting while under the duress of cashing bonus checks.

Union officials and Tribune lawyers are expected to return to court next month for the next hearing on the plan. In the meantime, company execs will just have to find another way to motivate themselves absent a definitive bonus structure.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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