Canadians politely begin invasion of Bay Area

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By G.W. Schulz

Word arrived today that Transcontinental, the Canadian company hired by the San Francisco Chronicle to build a shiny, new billion-dollar press, has been scouting locations in the East Bay city of Fremont for the facility. The Chronicle signed a 15-year outsourcing contract with Transcontinental, which also publishes La Presse, the Globe and Mail and the New York Times in Canada, last November.

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Fremont development manager Lori Taylor confirmed they’d received calls from the company, but they haven’t heard from Transcontinental since last month. She said Newark was also a rumored location for the plant.

The Chronicle's deal with Transcontinental served a crushing blow to the Web Pressmen and Prepress Workers’ Union Local 4, one of the nation’s oldest such unions. Local 4’s current contract with the Chronicle, reluctantly signed by the rank-and-file last year, expires in three years and there are no assurances Transcontinental will hire any of the union’s over 200 workers meaning a possible end to its tumultuous relationship with the Chronicle and its parent, the Hearst Corp.

“It could put us right out in the fucking cold,” Bruce Carlton of Local 4 told us.

After the last contract ended in the summer of 2005, Chronicle managers battled with the union over proposed cuts in salaries and benefits. Things got so hot that in July of that year, the paper’s publisher, Frank “Darth” Vega, issued a memo to employees outlining exactly how to keep the paper running under a stoppage and hired a notorious security firm that specializes in handling labor disputes.

Could Hearst arrange a shared printing deal with Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group, the Denver-based company that took over pretty much every major daily in the Bay Area last summer ‘cept the Chron? Chuck Moozakis, editor of the trade rag Newspapers & Technology, says Singleton has already pumped money into the San Jose Merc's press and plans to publish the Santa Cruz Sentinel there. MediaNews bought the Sentinel for $45 million last month further expanding what was already the company’s largest “cluster,” as it likes to describe them, among its holdings nationwide.

Here’s what Moozakis told us:

“I would think that with all the money they spent at the Mercury News, they wouldn’t be wanting to throw that all away by turning it around in two years to consolidate more publications at another plant. But, having said that, Singleton does look for ways to consolidate as many operations as he possibly can. And Transcontinental is a very aggressive company when it comes to trying to encourage newspaper publishers to use their services. So who’s to say that five years down the road once the [Transcontinental] plant’s operating – absent any legal hurdles MediaNews and Hearst have to jump through – it could ... produce more than just the Chronicle?”

MediaNews last year wiped out the pressroom of the San Mateo County Times and moved those operations to San Jose, and the company voided the current contract for the Sentinel’s pressmen in February. Hearst is a $300 million investor in “non-Bay Area” MediaNews stock.

Central to Singleton’s business model is snapping up neighboring publications and consolidating or concentrating operations as much as possible to save money. Some business-side positions in the Bay Area are already being outsourced to a company with operations in India, while others at the Oakland Tribune and the Merc are being sent to a nonunionized central office in San Ramon.

Transcontinental last month created a new corporate division that will exclusively handle outsourced newspaper printing in the United States. Meanwhile, San Jose is bummed about a bunch of useless baggage it's now carrying, and the dailies tell readers, including Clint Reilly, to fuck off.

*Image from Transcontinental's Web site

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