Monday, March 01, 2010

Behan replaces retiring labor chief Van Lare

The company just announced a top-level change in its labor relations management: Long-time labor relations senior vice president Wendell Van Lare is retiring next month, and is to be replaced by his lieutenant, William Behan.

In his new role, Behan will report to President and Chief Operating Officer Gracia Martore. He also becomes a member of the powerful Gannett Management Committee, which has broad oversight for company operations in all divisions.

The changeover becomes official with Van Lare's April 30 retirement. Behan joined Gannett in 1990 as an attorney over labor relations. Van Lare (left) joined Gannett in 1977 as assistant labor relations director.

The announcement comes less than a week after Van Lare was awarded 44,000 stock options that don't begin vesting until Feb. 24, 2011; they were awarded as part of 2009 annual pay to senior executives. Ordinarily, his departure next month would make those options worthless, since recipients need to be Gannett employees to cash them in. However, Van Lare's retirement package may include an acceleration of all his options, so he can exercise them at his leisure.

Unions once represented 20%
Behan, like Van Lare, is in charge of overseeing Gannett's dealings with unionized employees at a time when their presence continues to weaken. About 13% of the 30,000 U.S. workers are represented by unions -- the same percentage as in 2005, according to the newest annual 10-K report. The figure was 20% in 1993, according to that year's 10-K, the oldest available online.

What's more, the expected departure of 600 Honolulu Advertiser employees, many of them unionized, will reduce company-wide union presence even more when that paper is sold to a competitor next quarter.

The one ongoing disagreement I'm aware of between Gannett and any of its unions is a lawsuit filed by the 178-member union at The Indianapolis Star. It is suing the newspaper to preserve its arbitration rights, and possibly win back the jobs of eight people who were let go last summer. Another area of likely contention will be plans to close eight or more printing plants in months ahead, as Gannett outsources more printing to other Gannett and non-Gannett sites.

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