Michael Ferro (as depicted by the Los Angeles Times Guild)
While the scribes at his oddly named newspaper chain continue to worry about their jobs, year's end has brought considerable new riches for Michael Ferro, the Chicago-based wizard of tronc.
That jolly word for Ferro and his Merrick Ventures was tucked away in a pre-Christmas disclosure tronc quietly filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on December 22 regarding a recently minted consulting deal between Ferro and tronc.
"The Agreement provides for the engagement of Merrick Ventures on a non-exclusive basis to provide certain management expertise and technical services for an annual fee of $5 million in cash, payable in advance on the first business day of each calendar year," per the disclosure.
"The Agreement provides for a rolling three-year term, with the initial term continuing through December 31, 2020. Unless any party gives notice of termination by October 1 of any year during the term, an additional year is added to the term of the Agreement at the end of each year starting on December 31, 2018."
In exchange, according to the filing, Ferro and his firm have agreed to pick up their travel tabs associated with tronc business, giving up a controversial arrangement under which the company paid for use by Ferro of his executive jet.
"Mr. Ferro shall be responsible for all travel expenses (including private plane expenses) incurred by them in performance of their services for TPC rather than TPC reimbursing them for such expenses."
Members of the Los Angeles Times Guild, a freshly organized union seeking to negotiate a contract with tronc, pounced on the news.
"Tronc has handed Ferro and one of his companies a $5-million-a-year 'consulting agreement' that would cover the cost of his sleek Bombardier jet and any other luxury travel he chooses to indulge in," says the guild on its web page.
"In fact, Ferro gets the money even if he never takes to the skies again — or leaves the house. This is all according to a SEC filing that Tronc clearly timed for the Friday afternoon before Christmas."
"Could there be any better evidence for the need of a Guild at the Los Angeles Times?"
A secret-ballot vote by newsroom and commercial workers at the Times, scheduled for January 4th, will determine the fate of the guild's drive to unionize the employees. Results will be counted January 19th, the union says on its website.
“If Ferro flew first class on a commercial airline, instead of on a private jet that costs $8,500 an hour, his ‘sacrifice’ would go a long way toward giving us decent raises each year, while lowering our healthcare premiums and restoring our accruable vacation pay. And he’d still have plenty of legroom."
Meanwhile, back in San Diego, where tronc owns the shrinking Union-Tribune, workers are keeping their counsel regarding the ways of their high-flying company leader and warily watching the labor uprising in L.A.
Some here fear that any salary and benefit concessions made by tronc to the vocal Times employees could mean less cash for the San Diego operation and result in its ultimate combination with the Chicago firm's L.A. flagship.