CHICAGO — A major roadblock to sealing a deal on the sale of the Chicago Sun-Times appears to have been swept away.
Leaders of five unions that earlier rejected concessions demanded by would-be buyer Jim Tyree tentatively agreed to contract changes in talks Wednesday with the parent company, said Sun-Times Media Group Inc. spokeswoman Tammy Chase.
In heated sessions Wednesday night, the rank and file of four of the unions voted to accept the contract changes agreed to by the Chicago Newspaper Guild and top company brass.
A separate union representing editorial workers at the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana was likely to hold its vote Friday, union sources said.
The hometown investor's offer could be a last chance of survival for the Sun-Times, which is running out of cash. But Tyree has said he'll walk away unless all of the concerned unions accept concessions, including pay cuts.
Their approval could open the way for a Delaware bankruptcy judge to OK the Tyree deal on Thursday.
A message left Wednesday for Tom Thibeault, executive director of the guild, which represents editorial workers at the Sun-Times newspapers, was not returned.
Tyree, who heads Mesirow Financial, a financial services firm, leads a group that has offered to pay $5 million for assets of the Sun-Times Media Group, which also runs more than 50 suburban publications. The investors also would assume about $22 million in liabilities.
A judge said last month that Tyree and other parties should have until December to agree, but media group executives have said they don't have the cash to hold out until then. They've said the company could shut down for good, jeopardizing more than 1,800 jobs.
Sun-Times Media, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, citing $479 million in assets and $801 million in debt, has shed more than 400 jobs since late last year through layoffs and attrition.
If the Sun-Times goes under, that would leave this city of 3 million with one major daily, the Chicago Tribune, whose parent company is also operating under bankruptcy protection.
Also on Wednesday, Chicago-area businessman Thane Ritchie said he wants the bankruptcy judge to reopen bidding for the Sun-Times' parent company, claiming he was wrongly blocked from forging a proposal with union officials before a deadline passed this week.
No new suitors filed bids by Monday's deadline, leaving just one bid, Tyree's, on the table.
Ritchie, a Lisle-based private equity manager, didn't specify who allegedly threw the legal obstacles into his path, saying only that he had been warned that it would violate federal labor law if a potential buyer approached unions. Attorneys he asked disagreed.
The Sun-Times Media Group denied the claim, saying the company never tried to thwart any potential bidders.
Ritchie, the CEO of Ritchie Capital Management, hasn't publicly discussed what he might offer for the Sun-Times.
The Chicago Sun-Times is the 15th largest newspaper based on average weekday circulation of 312,141 and average Sunday circulation of 254,379 from October through March, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.