By: Todd Shields

Labor Leaders Recommend Approval Of New Contract

WASHINGTON – Negotiators reached a tentative settlement in
Seattle’s 45-day newspaper strike early Thursday, following more
than 13 hours of top-level talks in Washington.

The proposed contract offers pay increases that roughly match
what the Times offered as the strike began, said Linda
Foley, president of The Newspaper Guild. She said the six-year
pact offers increased medical benefits and back-to-work
provisions that may prevent layoffs.

Replacement workers are to be dismissed within eight weeks, after
which labor will call off a boycott of the newspapers that
wrought substantial circulation declines, Foley said.

Meanwhile, the newspaper is to offer early retirements and
buyouts that may be attractive to a number of workers, Foley
said. Strikers who want to return must be offered jobs, in order
of seniority, and within six months. Any layoffs will be
conducted on a seniority basis – a contentious point in
negotiations as managers originally proposed to retain
replacement workers and those who crossed picket lines.

Labor leaders agreed to recommend approval of the contract, said
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who brokered the talks. Voting
is expected as early as this weekend.

Both sides told Seattle media there had been important movement
on the key sticking point – how many striking workers could
return to work, and when, in the face of layoffs said to be
needed because of strike-caused financial losses for the
newspaper. The agreement would end the newspaper industry’s first
major strike in five years and Seattle’s first newspaper strike
in nearly 50 years.

The deal would return to work about 700 advertising, circulation,
newsroom, and composing room workers at the Times who
walked off their jobs Nov. 21 along with about 100 newsroom
workers at the jointly produced Seattle Post-
Intelligencer. The P-I workers returned to work
Tuesday after approving their separate contract.

Union leaders told the Seattle Union Record, a newspaper
published by striking journalists, that a Times
negotiating team led by publisher Frank Blethen had modified its
positions during the talks in Murray’s Capitol Hill offices.

“The company made quite a bit of movement today that brought
about an agreement,” said Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild chief
negotiator Bruce Meachum, according to the Union Record.

Meachum took part in talks that included Morton Bahr, president
of the Communication Workers of America, the Guild’s parent
union, and Guild president Foley. Times President H. Mason
Sizemore joined the talks, which for the first time included
Blethen, a member of the family that holds a majority stake of
the Times.

C. Richard Barnes, the top federal mediator, assisted discussions
that began around 2 p.m. EST in Murray’s conference room. As the
talks concluded Murray called upon an end to a boycott of the
papers and an effort to “rebuild readership.”

The Times is 50.1% owned by the Blethen family, while
Knight Ridder Inc. of San Jose holds a 49.5% stake. Hearst Corp.
owns the Post-Intelligencer, which is in a joint operating
agreement with the Times.

The last strike at the 255,867-circulation Times came in
1953. The 175,974-circulation Post-Intelligencer last had
a strike in 1936.

Todd Shields (tshields@editorandpublisher.com) is the Washington editor for E&P.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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