Federal government refiles $2.8M lien against Tampa Bay Times after seizing control of paper’s pension fund

TAMPA BAY TIMES (Z)
The paper's pension plan was seized by the federal government last year over a $100M debt.

The Tampa Bay Times has once again found itself in financial trouble as the federal government last week refiled a $2.8 million lien against its parent organization, Times Publishing Company.

The Times Publishing Company Pension Plan covers about 3,300 former and retired employees of the paper. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, or PBGC, refiled the liens against the Times Thursday. The PBGC announced in November it had seized control of the Times’ pension fund after the paper racked up more than $100 million in debt in its own fund.

“PBGC took action because the plan met the criteria for termination under federal pension law,” a PBGC spokesperson told Florida Politics last year. “In general, this means that the plan didn’t have enough money to pay all the promised benefits to its participants and was financially unable to keep up the plan.”

According to a letter sent to beneficiaries, retirees will be paid without interruption but would not “earn any further benefits from the plan.” PBGC said it will continue to pay the earned pension plan benefits, up to the limits set by law.

“The PBGC has taken responsibility for the Times pension plan and the investments to support it,” Times attorney Katie Kohn told Florida Politics. “The company is in discussion with the PBGC about its future financial support for the plan.”

The move is the latest filing after years of PBGC liens against the Times. A $30 million lien and a $7 million lien were refiled last year.

Newly anointed Times CEO Conan Gallaty in December told Florida Politics the seizure would be good for the company.

“Our goal has always been to fulfill our obligations to our pension,” Gallaty said. “But the publishing business has changed, and supporting the pension on our own is challenging. Though this outcome was never our goal, it is a good result for us. The publishing landscape is much different than it was even just a few years ago. This result allows us to focus on building our digital future.”

Former chairman Paul Tash announced his retirement just over a month after the seizure. It was the latest financial hit the newspaper has taken in recent years.

In 2017, a group of investors including Tash and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik loaned the paper $12 million under the name FBN partners. “Florida’s Best Newspaper” is a Times slogan.

The group also includes Tampa business executive Frank Morsani and his wife, Carol; developer Ted Couch; investment company chair (and part owner of the Washington football team) Robert Rothman; Tampa entrepreneur and philanthropist Kiran Patel and his wife, Pallavi; and two other unnamed investors.

Two years later, as liens mounted, FBN partners loaned the paper another $3 million. But the loan wasn’t enough to stave off cutbacks and layoffs. In 2018, the Times laid off about 50 employees. In October 2019, the Times laid off seven more journalists, among others. In February 2020, Tash announced all employees would receive a 10% pay cut and executives would get a 15% cut.

A month later, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 11 more journalists were laid off. Shortly after, furloughs were announced. Then the paper cut its daily print production to Wednesdays and Sundays. Last year, the Times announced more temporary pay cuts and sold its printing plant for $21 million.

In February 2020, the Times posted a heavily edited version of an Associated Press story about Miami Herald publisher McClatchy filing for bankruptcy. As Florida Politics noted then, the Times version of the story omitted nearly a third of the article’s content, including references to McClatchy looking to “unload its pension obligations to a federal corporation that guarantees pensions, so that employees would get the benefits they were entitled to.”

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected]


One comment

  • Edward Lyle

    March 27, 2022 at 11:38 am

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer rag… lmao

Comments are closed.


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