On Tuesday, the battle over The Inquirer shifted to employees.

Outside the newspaper's Center City headquarters, members of the Teamsters locals who package and deliver the paper inflated a 15-foot rat and protested for two hours against publisher Robert J. Hall.

At the same time, the warring owners were preparing to meet with newsroom union leaders in private talks scheduled for Wednesday.

Drivers of passing cars and buses honked in support as the 30 Teamsters picketed, complaining that Hall's decision to stop delivering single-sale copies of the Saturday issue of The Inquirer for nearly a year - the move recently was reversed - deprived the company of up to $4.5 million.

"He's made some serious blunders that are costing everybody," said John P. Laigaie, president of Teamsters Local 628.

Hall last week fired Inquirer editor William K. Marimow, exposing a feud between two co-owners of parent company Interstate General Media - South Jersey businessman and Democratic Party power broker George E. Norcross III and Lewis Katz, a parking lot magnate.

At stake in their battle for control of IGM are the fates of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the website Philly.com, which employ an estimated 1,800 people.

Among documents leaked in the ensuing days was a memo in which Hall claimed a "slide in circulation and loss of readership" of 24 percent under Marimow. He was referring to a Scarborough Research survey of media consumers in the Philadelphia region.

Audited paid circulation figures for The Inquirer showed a decline of less than 6 percent, from 325,289 in March 2012 to 306,000 in March 2013, the latest figures available. Those numbers include the Daily News, which is counted as an edition of The Inquirer. Scarborough measures readership, not just circulation, using a different methodology.

IGM bought the company in April 2012 and hired Marimow to edit The Inquirer, his second stint as the top editor.

Hall could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for Norcross and three other partners who together own 58 percent of the company released a statement Tuesday.

"Bob Hall and the leaders of IGM had to make difficult decisions as the organization exited bankruptcy," it said. "It was those decisions, and working in partnership with the employees and managers of the papers and Philly.com, that have put the company on the path to profitability."

Norcross and Katz, meanwhile, requested separate meetings Wednesday with leaders of the Newspaper Guild local, which represents 550 journalists, ad sales people, and finance department workers.

"The Guild plans to be Switzerland," said Howard Gensler, a Daily News columnist and president of the union. "We don't want the owners to take the last remaining money the company has and blow it on lawyers."

Katz and another owner, philanthropist and former cable mogul H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, filed suit Thursday against Hall, Norcross, and the other three partners of IGM, asking a judge to rescind the firing of Marimow and remove Hall on the ground that his contract had expired and had not been renewed. Their request for an injunction is pending.

The suit argues that the editor's dismissal was unauthorized because Katz and Norcross, as the two members of the partnership's management committee, must agree on major business decisions.

"I don't know how it'll pan out now that the owners are fighting with each other," said Stephen Hart of Pennsauken, a union steward in the papers' mailroom. "We think it will be detrimental to our future."