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#2 Detroit Newspaper Union Strike

#2 Detroit Newspaper Union Strike image #2 Detroit Newspaper Union Strike image
Parent Issue
Month
September
Year
1995
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

■ arnlng: Don't put your I M coins In that Detroit News ■ or Detroit Free Press box! '%ïj% iLj The paper has been pro■ duced by scab labor. This has been the case since July 13, when the 2,500 unlon workers at the Detroit Free Press, The DetroitNews and the company thatoversees the business operations of both papers, the Detroit Newspapers Agency (DNA) , went on strike. At the time thatworkers walked out, talks between the unlons and the two newspapers had broken down followlng an impasse on vlrtually every area of contract negotlations. Beginning Aug. 2 1 , talks facilitated by state and federal mediators have resumed, butas AGENDA goes to press there has been no measurable progresa. The striklng workers are members of the six unions whlch make up the Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions. The Council, an informal labor alliance, is the unions' designatedbargainingagentAmongits members are circulatlon managers, customer service workers, truck drivers, mailroom employees, reporters, photographers, copy editors, graphic arüsts, assistant editors, maintenance workers, and press operators. The striking unions involved are the Teamsters Locáis 372 and 2040, Newspaper Guild of Detroit Local 22, Graphic Communications International Union Locáis 13N and 289N, the DetroitTypographical Union Local 18, and Engravers Local 289M. The Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions was formed in 1971 in an effort to improve the bargainlng process on all sides. Fito: to that time, each union would bargain its own contract- a üme-consuming process riddled with problems. For instance, the papers would try to bargain flrst wlth the union they considered the weakest, to set a precedent for subsequent contracts. Espedalty in light of the 1989 Joint Operaüng Agreement (JOA), which strengthened the hand of the papers by consolidaüng managerial (non-union) operations, the power and thus eflFecüveness of one labor organizauon with greater numbers became essential. Normalfy the Council JoinÜy represents all the unions in bargaining economie issues wlth the management (and individual unions meet with the papers on other issues, Le. Job categories and workplace control). Throughout the talks this summer, however, management has reversed its posiüon several times as to whether it would bargain at all with the Council. At present, the papers and the DNA are only wüling to meet with individual unions. The DNA was formed in 1 989 in the wake of the JOA reached between the two papers. The JOAwas a result of economie dÜBculües facing both The News and the Free Press and establishes a 100-year link between the two papers' owners, Gannett Co. and KnightRidder Inc. The understanding- which albwed for the exception to anti-monopofy laws- was that without the JOA, atleast one paper would not survive. The News had a pre-strike daily circulaüon of 356,000 and an editorial staffof 300. Of those, 190 are striking Guild members. The News' owner is media giant Gannett Co. , which had eamlngs of $3.82 biUJon In 1994. The Pree Press had a pre-strike daily circulatlon of 545,000. lts owner, Knight-Ridder Inc. , posted proflts of $2.64 billion In 1994. Of the Free Press' 303 editorial staff members, 265 are Gulld members on strike. Normally the papers publlshed separate edltlons Mondays through Saturdays and a comblned paper on Sundays. During the strike, however, theyhavepubllshedajoint paper seven days a week. The Issues The basic issues over which the workers are striking are equitable pay, job security , maintainingbeneflts, and Job deflnlüons. Workers have gone without a ralse slnce the 1989 merger, when the DNAwaspleadlngforhelp to keep the papers alive. Now that the papers have posted a proflt two years in a row, workers say it's time for a ralse. The News and Free Press, in a July 1 6 artlcle, stated that the DNA made an estünated $46 müllon proñt in 1994. The unión claims the DNA wants to fill many jobs now reserved for union members with non-union employees and slash many full-time positions to part-time with no beneflts or Job security. The DNA also wants to decrease the number of Jobs in some areas (particularly mailroom employees). The union also states that equitable pay is being threatened by DNA proposals to replace across-the-board raises for newsroom employees with merit-based raises - which the union views as an arbltrary system, fostering favoritism, and havlng no clear guidelines. And the DNA wants some joumalists to designate themselves as "professionals" on a salary, on cali all the time, with no eligibility for overtime. There also remain unresolved issues surroundinghealth insurance, sick leave, vacation üme, and other beneflts. The union also opposes a move by the DNA to change the entire circulation operaüon by reducing the number of district managers (giving fewer managers larger areas), and changing the status of newspaper carriers from independentoperators toagents (giving the DNA control over subscriber lists and possibly eliminaüng the union-member status of managers). The DNA's plan to elimínate rules that define workers' roles - so that, for example, an engraver could be made to do janitorial work - is also opposed by the union. On July 2, Detroit News publisher Bob Giles unilaierally imposed a merit-based pay system and other work conditions on Newspaper Guild members. This tactic is considered an 'act of war" in contract negoüations - it makes it very difflcult to continue working during talks. All six of the Council's unions had agreed that they were prepared to walk out in support, if any one union had condiüons imposed on it Management, for their part, accuses the unions of "featherbedding" - attempting to force the company to retain unnecessary Jobs. And despite the DNA's claims to the contrary, union members believe that management will never bargain in good faith and is out to break the union. In an article published July 1 6, The News and Free Press summed up the conflict as: 'The company's deslre to gain full control over its business operations vs. the unions' desire to protect jobs and set workplace rules." To Cross or Not to Cross On Aug. 8, Free Press managers issued striking editorial staffers an ultimatum: Return toworkby Aug. lOoryoumayloseyour job. "This letter is to inform you that we have decided, effective 1 0 am Thursday, Aug. 1 0, 1995, to begin extending job offers to others on a permanent basis," stated the letter signed by publisher Neal Shine and seven senior editors. "If you have not retumed to work by that time, we intend to exercise our legal right to hire permanent replacements." This is ironie given the Free Press editorial which appeared lastyear in opposition to the hiring of permanent replacements in a strike. The U.S. Senate has an important opportunity to restore balance in relations between labor and business," stated the editorial. "Itshouldapproveabillthatwould prohibit companies from hiring permanent replacements for striking workers. The right to strike is essentlal ifworkers are to galn and preserve fair wages." They're apparently ready to replace our butts," W. Kim Heron, a copy editor and reporter at the Free Press slnce 1979, tokd The Detroit Journal (an on-line publlcatlon put out by striking Joumallsts). "But we're not ready to klss thelrs." Roger Chesley, a 12-year veteran of the Free Press who has reported on crime In inner-clty Detroitand the riots In Los Angeles followlng the Rodney King verdict, also refusedto cross the picket line. "Iputmyselfin some type of personal danger for this newspaper," Chesley told The Journal. "It Just seems a real strange way to say thanks for all youVe done." Whereas an unspecifled number of reporters (57 according to published reports) did heed the threat and return to work, others burned their letters on the picket line. One of those who crossed the line was Free Press medical writer Pat Anstett, whose husband is also a writer on strike. "I was sobbing. It was one of the hardest things IVe ever done," Anstett was quoted as saying in the The News and Free Press. "We have three young children - I hope it's obvious to everyone why we carne back. We had no income." Free Press reporter Martin F. Kohn, however, was undeterred. "We all have reasons to cross," Kohn told The News and Free Press. "My wife has MS. She requires $900 a month in prescriptions. I'm not crossing," he said. The News and Free Press have recruited scabs from other papers owned by their parentcompanies.InlateJuly.KnightRidder Inc. brought in reporters, editors, and photographers with offers of lucraüve pay on top of their regular pay back home. They have also been cornpensated for airfare and expenses. Fair Play? Accusaüons have flown on both sides of the strike. The DNA accuses strikers of harassing and assaulting newspaper carriers and other scabs, of tossing nails on the street to flatten the tires of delivery trucks, and of stealing coin-operated newspaper boxes. The strikers accuse the DNA of inümidaüon in the hiring of a private Jackbooted security force and of bribery, in the "contributions" they have made to the Sterling Heights Pólice Dept (SHPD) for policing its printing plant at 16 Mile and Mound Roads during the strike. According to the Aug. 24 edition of a strike bulletin called The Alliance.anAug. 16 memo by Sterling Heights Flnance Director Virginia Fette documented the following: that the DNA gave the Sterling Heights Pólice Department $ 1 1 6,92 1 on July 20; $50,956 on Jufy 26; $69,225 on Aug 8; and $50,3 1 1 on Aug. 16. The total amount given to the SHPDbytheDNAatthat Urne was $287,4 13. "I personally feel its a conflict of interest," Torn Page, an offlcer with Teamsters Local 2040, told AGENDA. "Not only is the Detroit Newspapers Agency paying for outside [security] people, they're also paying for the Sterling Heights Pólice Department" Page claims the papers have been paying off the (SEE HEXT PAGE) NEWSPAPER STRIKE (FROM PREVIOUS PA6E) Warren and Fmser pólice departments as well. The DNA has also come under flre for thelr blatantly biased coverage of the strike - essentially editortallzlng In front-page news stories of The News and Fnee Press. Tour use of the paper you are produclng as the propaganda arm of the Detroit Newspaper Agency also violates your obllgation to provlde responsible reportlng to thls community.'wroteformerDetroitMayorColernan Young In a letter to DNA chlef executlve offlcer Frank Vega, printed In The Detroit JournaL "It is a conflrmation of the worst fears of those of us who have been concemed about what the effect would be onjournalism in this town if Detroit ceased to be a twonewspaper town. The joint paper's one-sided repoiiing on the strike doesn't even pretend to be fair or balanced." The Sterling Heights City Council has asked Attorney General Janet Reno to investígate possiblevtolaüons of the JOA,lncluding pledges by the two papers to retain separate editorial volees and to protect jobs. That requesthas alsobeen made by the AFL-CIO and the six strüdng Detroit unions. Accordlng to The Alliance, the unions recently became aware of a "secret amendment" unllaterally addedtotheJOAby the papers in 1992,whlch gave the DNA the right to publish a combined edlüon In the event of a strike. The DNA has managed to ralse the lre of the religious communlty, as well. In a letter to Detroit-area churches dated Aug. 2, the DNA suggested that congregatlon members sell The Detroit News and Free Press on Sundays after mass. The DNA offered the churches 75 fromeach$l .50 paper. "Here's a fentastíc opportunity to raise extra fiinds for a variety of purposes: your church youth group; building renovations; ald to underprivileged church members; donations to charitable causes," stated the letter signed by Robert Althaus, senior vice president of circulation for the DNA. Several of the pastors held a news conference to denounce the move. "I resent thls very, very much," said Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, pastor of St Leo's and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit, in a published report. "I find itdeplorable that the newspapers would be trylng to draw the churches into their attempt to break the union. I protest the idea that they would use churches to, in effect, sell scab newspapers." Some noted that strikers are part of their congregations. "I think it is devastaüng that these corporations would come Into an ecclesiasücal body and ask them to really hurt their own family members," added the Rev. Loyce Lester, pastor of the Original New Grace Baptist Church. By all indications, this strike will not be resolved any urne scon. Elven gtven that realtty, Page told AGENDA the morale among the strikers is "Very strong." "We're hokling each other up, believe me," he said. What you can do: To give the strikers the best chance of a fair settlement, you can help in the following ways: Cancel your subscríption to The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. To do this cali 31 3-222-6500 and press "0" or caU 1-800-395-3300. Boycott and tel your local merchants that you win not shop at stores that continue to advertise n or sell The NewsFree Press. (For instance , Borders is still selling the paper and ABC Warehouse, Hudson's and Fretter are among the stores still advertsing in it). Help pass out leaflets to potentjal customers in front of stores still advertsing in the paper. To parbeipate, cali strike headquarters at 31 3-965-1478. Join the picket lines in downtown Detroit at the Free Press (321 W.Lafayette), The Newsand Detroit Newspapers Agency (615 W. Lafayette), and at the printing plant at 16 Mile and Mound Road in Sterling Heights. Attend "Solidarity Saturday," a rally, march, and demonstration on Sept. 2 starting at 5 pm at UAW 228 in Sterling Heights. Cali 313-896-2600 for more nformation. Send financial contributions to the strikers' hardship committee. Make checks payable to "Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions" co Newspaper Guik) of Detroit, 3300 Book Bk)g„ 1249 Washington Brvd., Detroit, MI 48226

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