Friday, December 26, 2008

Tribune seeks approval for union pension payments

Dec 26 (Reuters) - U.S. media group Tribune Co is asking a judge for permission to pay unpaid pre-bankruptcy contributions owed to its union pension plans.

In a motion filed on Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, the publisher of The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times said the payments were aimed at maintaining morale, union relationships and an essential union employee workforce.

The company is seeking the ability to immediately pay pre-bankruptcy contributions owed to the pension plans, provided the amount does not exceed $550,000. It is also seeking the ability to continue making contributions to those plans, while it operates in bankruptcy.

The court filing said about $443,000 was due to be paid to the pension plans as of Dec. 8, when the company filed for bankruptcy protection.

Tribune added that its average monthly payment under the pension plans is about $407,000.

The company has about 13,940 employees and 2,450 part-time employees. About 15 percent of those employees are represented by the unions, it said.

Tribune said if it fails to pay unpaid pension contributions it expects union representatives to immediately seek legal relief to compel the payment.

Tribune, which owns eight major daily newspapers and several television stations, filed for bankruptcy protection after collapsing under a heavy debt load, just a year after real estate mogul Sam Zell took it private. Much of the $8.2 billion buyout price was paid for by borrowing against future contributions to the pension plans for Tribune's workers, through their employee stock ownership plan.

A court hearing on the pension payment issue is set for Jan. 15, according to court documents.

The case is In re Tribune Co, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 08-13141. (Reporting by Santosh Nadgir in Bangalore, additional reporting by Emily Chasan in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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