Benefits for thousands of retired Canadian newspaper workers are at risk.

Reported the Hamilton Spectator: “About 3,000 retirees of the Southam newspaper chain, including former Spectator staff, received a letter just before Christmas warning them their retirement benefits are in jeopardy. While coverage will continue “for the time being,” the retirees were warned the company that administers their plan has gone into bankruptcy protection and its assets “may not be sufficient to fund all (benefits) over the long term” so their coverage “may be altered.””

“The Southam retirement benefits plan is administered by Hollinger Canadian Publishing Holdings Company (HCPH), the Toronto-based firm that held the newspapers of disgraced media baron Conrad Black. As his empire disintegrated under the barrage of fraud and theft charges that ultimately put Black in a Florida prison, most of the Southam newspapers were sold in 2000 to Canwest Global Communications in a deal that left “legacy” costs for retirees with Hollinger.”

Bloomberg reported Dec. 10 on Ontario Superior Court Judge Colin Campbell granting Hollinger protection from creditors.

Finally someone in the mainstream media is paying attention, said former Southam journalist Brian Brennan, who previously raised the alarm ….

UPDATE: Details on the pension debacle — including historic context — are  on the web site of the Media Union of BC.


Brian Brennan’s post on his blog about the Southam travesty, “Lump of coal,” is re-posted here with his permission. Here is the Facebook group he set up for former Southam employees.

By Brian Brennan
Dec. 27 2009

Why is the mainstream media not covering this story? Why have The Globe
and Mail, CBC, National Post, Maclean’s et al seemingly missed out on
the fact that Hollinger Publishing—Conrad Black’s former newspaper
holdings company—has been forced into bankruptcy protection? Why have
these national news organizations not reported that more than 3,000
retired newspaper workers—former employees of the Montreal Gazette,
Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen and
other papers now owned by Canwest—were advised by letter just before
Christmas that their pension and benefit plans could be in jeopardy?

There are many more questions that demand immediate answers:

· What happened to the $3.5 billion that Hollinger received for the
sale of its newspapers to Canwest in 2000? In a court filing (Hollinger
Canadian Publishing Holdings Co., File No. 09-8503-00CL. Ontario
Superior Court of Justice —Toronto), the company says it has no assets
and about $24.5 CAD million in cash. We do know what may have happened
to about $6.1 million of it (currently the subject of a US Supreme
Court appeal) but what about the rest?

· Why was not some of this money set aside to take care of Hollinger’s existing liabilities when the sale took place?

· What happened to the money that the Southam and Hollinger retirees
paid into the pension fund in good faith over a period of many years
(in my case, 27)? We were told the money was being held in trust and
would not be affected by any future financial problems of the employer.
Was this a lie?

· Why did Canwest not assume continuing responsibility for Hollinger’s pension obligations when it bought the company in 2000?

· How did Hollinger expect to continue meeting its pension obligations
when, as the letter to retirees now says, it had no “ongoing business
activity” to bring new revenue into the company?

· Why did Hollinger tell the retirees in 2007 that the “events”
affecting the financial status of the company (i.e. the indictment of
certain directors for defrauding shareholders) should not have any
impact on the pension and benefit programs administered by the company?

· Why did a Hollinger employee subsequently tell me that my pension
plan was fully funded and protected when, in fact, it is “not insured
or prefunded”?

· Why is the Sun-Times Media Group, the parent company of Hollinger,
not assuming responsibility for the debts of its subsidiary?

Somebody knows the answers. The mainstream media has the resources —and
surely as much interest as those of us who used to work for the Southam
and Hollinger newspapers—to find out what they are. Canwest is also in
what it euphemistically calls “creditor protection.” Could its retirees
find themselves in the same situation a few years hence? It’s in their
interest to start seeking answers now.

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