By: Mark Fitzgerald
WITH THE STRIKE by 2,500 workers against Detroit’s two daily newspapers in its second week with no bargaining scheduled, one of the papers told its newsroom employees to return to work ? or else.
“You’re very important to the [Detroit] Free Press and we want you back as soon as possible. But if the strike drags on, we will soon face the prospect of making more lasting arrangements,” Free Press publisher Neal Shine and seven other top newsroom managers wrote in a July 21 letter to the paper’s striking Newspaper Guild members.
The suggestion that journalists could be permanently replaced came as Detroit Newspapers demonstrated that it could distribute to a substantial percentage of its normal circulation despite the strike by drivers and mailers.
For its part, a Guild statement dismissed the letter as “another example of the union-busting efforts” of the newspapers.
Many Guild members have criticized Free Press management for what they say are transparent efforts ? some of them printed in the management-produced newspaper ? to split newsroom workers from the four other production unions in the strike.
Susie Ellwood, Detroit Newspapers vice president for market development, said an increased number of non-union carriers accounted for big increases in home delivery of the Detroit News and Free Press combined newspaper. On Friday, July 21, Detroit Newspapers claimed a distribution of 559,000, including 258,000 home delivery copies. By the next day, home delivery increased to 405,000 copies and a total distribution of 658,000. Pre-strike circulation of the normally combined Saturday edition was 823,310 as of the last Audit Bureau of Circulations reporting period.
Detroit Newspapers said it distributed 900,000 copies of the Sunday Detroit News and Free Press on July 23 ? or better than 80% of the normal circulation of the combined Sunday paper. Some 495,000 of those copies were home delivered, Ellwood said.
Home delivery on Monday, July 24, was 392,500, compared with 510,000 for a normal combined home delivery of the morning Free Press and the evening News. Total distribution was 683,000, Ellwood said.
Advertising continued to be thin in the combined paper, which has suffered the loss of some big advertisers such as Kmart and the Farmer Jack supermarket chain.
“We think with these distribution numbers we will be able to get some of these people back who had cold feet,” Ellwood said.
There were two reports of violence July 23 at the Sterling Heights distribution facility where striking mailers and drivers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have mounted their biggest picket lines.
Detroit Newspapers reported a private security guard was shot in the face with a pellet gun, and the unions complained a picketer was brushed by a van carrying non-union employees into the facility. No arrests were made immediately in either incident.
Some 2,500 workers represented by five unions on July 13 walked off their jobs at the Knight-Ridder’s Free Press, Gannett’s News and Detroit Newspapers, the joint operating agency that handles business and production operations for both papers.
Since July 15, Detroit Newspapers has published a combined edition of the News and Free Press and claimed continuing progress in distributing to home-delivery and single-copy customers.
Sticking points in the strike vary from union to union. Guild members oppose company plans to replace across-the-board salary increases with merit raises decided by line editors. Mailers object to work rule and manning level proposals. Circulation workers in bargaining have resisted company plans to change from independent carriers to an agent system that would mean layoffs for about 60 Teamster members.
Unions striking the papers are Newspaper Guild of Detroit, Local 22; Newspaper Drivers and Handlers (Teamsters), Local 372; Detroit Mailers (Teamsters), Local 2040; Graphic Communications International Union, Local 289; Graphic Communications Union, Local 13; and the Detroit Typographical