By Scott Olson, The IBJ

Indianapolis Star parent Gannett Co. informed the newspaper's union yesterday that it wants to cut employee pay by 15 percent.

A lawyer for Virginia-based Gannett provided the Indianapolis News Guild a proposal for the salary reduction that would take effect when both sides reach a new contract, or if they reach an impasse and cease talks.

The union is set to return to the bargaining table in mid-April and will be calling a membership meeting soon to discuss strategy and options, according to a letter guild leaders sent to more than 200 Star employees who could be affected.

"This was a disappointing move, given that we thought the company's bargaining team was starting to embrace the concept of negotiating instead of dictating," the union said. "In fact, we believe the company's actions at the table today raise the specter of regressive and bad-faith bargaining.

Gannett counsel told union leaders that the pay cut should save the company $1.5 million annually. The guild said it has asked for certain financial information to confirm whether the company's finances are as dire as claimed. The company lawyer declined to disclose whether the salary reduction would apply to management or other employees, according to the union.

A cut in pay would be the second concession Star employees have had to accept just this year.

The union voted overwhelmingly in January to accept a one-week furlough for each of its members in hopes of avoiding further layoffs.

Gannett officials had told Star employees that they would be required to take one week off without pay during the first quarter of this year as a cost-saving measure. Guild members were told if they did not agree to take the furlough, layoffs would begin immediately.

The furlough program follows two recent rounds of layoffs at the Star, including one involving 62 employees in December.