By: Allan Wolper
MICHELE VERNON-CHESLEY sat down with her students at Wayne State University and explained what it was going to be like to work for two newspapers that were on strike.
Vernon-Chesley knew the story more intimately than most because she is married to Roger Chesley, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press who has become city editor for the Detroit Journal, the paper for the striking journalists.
“They all knew my husband was on strike,” she recalled, her voice reflecting the emotional pain of the interminable labor conflict. “But I didn’t want them to make a decision based on what they think of that.
“Of course, I know what Roger would want them to do. He doesn’t want them to cross his picket line.”
Roger Chesley acknowledged that he will be pained this summer when his wife’s students from the Journalism Institute For Minorities at Wayne State University cross union picket lines to work as interns at the Free Press and the News.
“Michele is in a tough position,” sighed Chesley. “She runs a program that gets a lot of money from the papers. She is caught in the middle. And I understand that. She never told me not to strike.”
Roger and Michelle met at the Free Press when they were reporters there, fell in love, got married, and now have three children.
And they work diligently to keep the strain of the strike from putting too much stress on their household life. Michelle, for example, guards the phone at night so that Roger won’t inadvertently pick up a call front one of the internship coordinators at the Detroit newspapers.
“I don’t want Roger to feel any more pain than he already has,” she said.
But Roger, who collects a $160 per-week strike paycheck for running the Journal newsroom, is hurt by the fact that the students this summer will be earning salaries three times higher than his striking colleagues.
“You think those newspapers would have paid the kids all that money if the union hadn’t negotiated those contracts for them?” Chesley said. “Those papers would have paid them a lot less.”
Louis Mleczko, president of Local 22 of the Newspaper Guild, says that Michelle was the only journalism professor to contact him about the strike situation.
“She asked what we thought and we told her we didn’t want her students to cross the line,” Mleczko said. “We told her the newspapers were taking advantage of the students. But at least she called. No one else did.”
Roger Chesley said he was stunned to learn that his wife was the only journalism professor to contact the union to get its take on the strike.
“It’s despicable for a professor not to make a call to find out what is going on,” he said. “Those professors are supposed to be journalists. You would think they would want to get both sides of an issue. If they are sending the students, that means they believe the propaganda that everything is the way it always was in the newsroom.”
The Chesley family would like to see the picket signs come down to return some normalcy to their life and because the Free Press has meant so much to them.
“It was like a family in that newsroom,” said Michelle, recalling the days when she and Roger worked there.
“To Roger, and other people worked there, it seemed like their parents had gotten up and left them. They are in mourning. But they are strong. And so is my family.”
? Allan Wolper