DETROIT’S HALF-DECADE-OLD LABOR DISPUTE ENDS

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Last Two Unions Ratify Detroit Newspapers’ “Final Offer”





Begun with a bang, Detroit’s epic newspaper labor dispute ended
Sunday with a whimper.



Five and a half years after 2,500 workers in six unions stormed
off their jobs at Detroit’s two jointly produced daily
newspapers, the two biggest Teamsters locals ratified contracts
that provides annual 2% pay raises on wages that have been
sharply cut, in some packaging jobs by as much as 50%. The
contract also no longer requires blue-collar employees to join a
union in order to drive a delivery truck or work at the Sterling
Heights, Mich., plant that produces Knight Ridder Inc.’s
Detroit Free Press and Gannett Co. Inc.’s Detroit
News.



Repeating the same arguments made by union leaders before
contracts were approved by editorial, pressmen, and composing
room unions, officials for Teamsters Local 372 and 2040 argued
that the agreements at least preserved such union protections as
grievance procedures and seniority systems. The vote totals were
not released by the unions, but Free Press business writer
John Gallagher reported the vote was 36-33 at Local 2040, which
represents packaging center workers.



The two unions represented nearly 2,000 full-time and part-time
workers before the July 13, 1995 strike. They were replaced by a
much smaller worker force and have been returning to work on an
attrition basis.



In a statement, the Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions
umbrella group said the latest ratification votes “effectively
ends” the labor dispute. The unions were expected later today to
abandon an advertising and circulation boycott of the papers that
have helped keep combined Free Press and News
circulation about 30% lower than its pre-strike level.



While the unions never succeeded in stopping even a single day of
publication of the newspapers – and they formally abandoned
the strike on Valentine’s Day of 1997 – they pinned their
hopes for eventual success on a finding by the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) that the strike was caused by management’s
unfair labor practices. That could have meant the newspapers
would be forced to return strikers to their jobs with back pay.
This summer, however, a federal appeals court reversed the NLRB
finding.



“Although our members were disappointed and obviously disagreed
with the ruling from three conservative judges in Washington,
D.C., they understood that a no vote today would give the company
exactly what they were looking for – a union-free
environment. And that was something that was just unacceptable
and this contract prevents that scenario from happening,” said Al
Derey, chairman of the newspaper union umbrella group and
secretary/treasurer of Local 372.



In a note to readers in Dec. 18 editions of the Free
Press, Publisher Heath J. Meriwether called the ratification
“a most welcome day” for the Free Press. “With all of our
unions now having agreed to contracts, we mark the end of a long
and difficult labor dispute,” he wrote. “Far more important, we
also want to mark the start of a healing process here at the
newspaper and among people in the community we serve.”







Mark Fitzgerald (mfitzgerald@editorandpublisher.com) is editor at large for E&P.







Related stories:



TEAMSTERS SET CONTRACT VOTE IN DETROIT (12/11/00)

IS END NEAR FOR DETROIT LABOR DISPUTE? (11/13/00)

DETROIT CONTRACT GETS PRESS WORKERS APPROVAL (11/08/00)

DETROIT UNION MEMBERS TO VOTE ON CONTRACTS (10/30/00)

DETROIT JOA MAKES NEW OFFER TO UNIONS (09/11/00)

DETROIT LABOR STRIFE UNSETTLING (07/10/00)







Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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