TO STRIKE OR NOT?

By: Joe Strupp

Press-Telegram Workers Cast Underwhelming Vote



from this week’s Editor & Publisher magazine:



A strike vote by Newspaper Guild members employed at the Press-Telegram
in Long Beach, Calif., last week gave mixed signals about how much
support exists for a walkout. Although 83% of those who voted approved
a strike, fewer than half of the local’s rank and filers cast ballots.



‘I don’t think they are a bit serious,’ says Jim Janiga, vice president
of human resources for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, a division of
MediaNews Group Inc. that owns the Press-Telegram and eight other
Southern California dailies. ‘If they were, they would have had a
better vote.’



Bruce Meachum, sector representative for Southern California Media
Guild Local 39069, says 47 of the union’s 110 members cast ballots,
with 39 approving a strike and eight opposing. Despite the low turnout,
he says the overwhelming majority shows how angry workers are. ‘I think
it shows the frustration we have had in trying to get a contract,’ says
Meachum, who would not speculate on a timeline for a strike.



Meachum says talks for a new contract began in February 1998, several
months after MediaNews Group bought the paper from Knight Ridder and
then killed the previous contract. Since bargaining began, Meachum says
both sides have agreed on almost every issue, except wages, union-dues
payroll deductions, and union-rights clauses.



‘There aren’t that many issues left, which is why we are so
frustrated,’ Meachum says. ‘We should be able to get a deal.
[Management] is being very, very petty.’



Janiga says he has been willing to work out an agreement, and cites his
efforts to bring in a federal mediator when talks stalled last year.
But he stresses that the newspaper still opposes a payroll deduction
for union dues and a union request for a provision requiring workers to
join the Guild. Wages were reduced by as much as 47% after the paper
was sold, Meachum says, while sick pay and vacation pay also were
reduced, health benefits decreased and premiums increased, and more
than 200 jobs were lost. He says the top minimum starting salary under
Knight Ridder was more than $800, but has gone below $600 for some
workers since the ownership change.



Janiga says management has been willing to forge a contract, and points
to an agreement approved by Guild employees at the Los Angeles Daily
News – another MediaNews Group paper – several weeks ago. He says the
Long Beach employees have been offered wages that are within 2% of
their Los Angeles counterparts.



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Joe Strupp (jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com) is associate editor for
Editor & Publisher magazine.













(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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