By: mark fitzgerald
THE CLEVELAND PLAIN Dealer has negotiated 10 years of labor peace.
In contracts that are apparently unprecedented in the newspaper industry, the Plain Dealer’s unions agreed not only to lengthy contracts ? but also not to strike or seek arbitration when scheduled raises end six years into their contracts.
Eight of the nine contracts run for 10 years. The ninth, covering paper handlers, has a 14-year term. The contracts cover approximately 900 of the newspaper’s 1,600 employees.
All the contracts, which are retroactive to March 1, provide for an initial wage increase of 3.5% followed by raises of 3% every 15 months for six years. At that time, in the year 2002, there will be a reopener for wages and some specified fringe benefits.
“The unusualness of the agreement is that the unions have agreed they will have no ability to go on strike or seek to arbitrate on economic issues. Both sides will negotiate in good faith,” said William Calaiacovo, the Plain Dealer’s director of human resources and its chief spokesman during the negotiations.
“I think it may be historic. Certainly we haven’t been able to find another example,” he added.
The extraordinarily lengthy contract terms ? one of the nine unions, the paper handlers, signed for 14 years ? reflect the sea of change in newspaper labor relations over the past three decades. From confrontations that at least indirectly led to papers folding during the 1960s and 1970s, newspaper unions now increasingly shy away from strikes and emphasize job security as their most important contract goal.
All newspaper unions these days are also watching Detroit, where a strike by six big unions will turn 500 days old Nov. 24. While a recent Audit Bureau of Circulations audit indicates the jointly produced Detroit Free Press and Detroit News have lost 35% of their combined circulation during the strike, the papers have never missed a day of publication.
“Unions are looking at Detroit and saying they don’t want to have it happen at their papers,” said Thomas F. Gibbons, a practicing labor attorney who is executive director of the Center for Workforce Education at DePaul University in Chicago.
Gibbons characterized as “risky” to unions both the lengthy terms and no strike/no arbitration economic reopeners in the middle of the Plain Dealer pacts.
In the past decade, he noted, some job issues such as child care, family leave and schedule flexibility have become far more important to employees than they were in the past.
“It’s hard to predict even two or three years down the road what conditions will be like,” Gibbons said. “It seems to me a risky strategy to lock yourself into a pattern for 10 years ? especially without the ability to strike or take a job action at the reopener. Dollars are always the most important part of a contract, and here you’re taking [job action or arbitration] out of the equation.”
The contracts were clearly acceptable, however, to Plain Dealer union members: An average of 94% of voting members in the nine bargaining units approved the pacts.
“Given all the changes in the industry, a 10-year contract gives us stability that is important. We certainly feel good about the contract,” said Dick Peery, president of the Northeast Ohio Newspaper Guild. “We felt overall the job stability from having a 10-year contract kind of makes up for the rest.”
Carmen Parise, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 743 and president of the “unity council” that jointly negotiated the contracts, hailed the pacts as “a first-class contract for the best newspaper workers in America.”
“It’s really a classic example of what happens when reasonable leadership on both sides sit down and really address the needs of both sides,” Parise said in the Plain Dealer’s unbylined article on the contracts agreement.
Plain Dealer president and publisher Alex Machaskee similarly emphasized management/labor
An apparent unprecedented labor pact with 10 unions gives Cleveland
Plain Dealer guarantees of no work stoppages until 2006
?(“The contracts are eloquent testimony to the mutually respectful and mature relationships we have with the unions and to an excellent employment-management environment here.”) [Caption]
?(? Alex Machaskee, Cleveland Plain Dealer president and publisher) [Photo & Caption]