By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
IN THE BLAZING midday sun, union workers from the Washington, D.C., area marched in front of Gannett Co. Inc. headquarters in Arlington, Va., to protest the company’s actions in the Detroit newspaper strike.
According to Newspaper Guild president Charles Dale, the Aug. 4 event was principally organized by the Guild’s secretary/treasurer Linda Foley. Speakers included Dale and top officers from the Graphic Communications International Union, the printing sector of the Communications Workers of America, the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters. Also attending were members of the Washington/Baltimore Newspaper Guild and teachers’ and office workers’ unions.
The participation of other unions, “evidences the concern of the labor movement over what’s happening in Detroit and other places,” Dale said. “The bottom line is becoming more important than people and the quality of the product.”
David Bates, staff organizer for the Washington/Baltimore Newspaper Guild said he counted at least 150 people at the rally, and placed the total figure at between 150 and 200 people.
The event lasted about an hour, Bates said, adding, “I don’t think people could’ve marched much longer. It was deadly hot.”
In addition to marching in front of the building with bullhorns and picket signs, a petition was delivered to the Gannett offices for chairman, president and CEO John Curley.
Signed by 300 to 350 Detroit News and Free Press staffers, the petititon called on management to return to the negotiating table. There would have been “a helluva lot more” signatures, Dale said, but the petition was organized at the last minute.
While union officials were trying to deliver the petition ? they reportedly were stopped by security in the lobby but were assured that it would be delivered to Curley ? those outside serenaded onlookers with “They Work for Gannett,” sung to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey,” said Bates.
The first verse was: “At a Detroit Daily,/Once saddled in debt,/The boss told the workers,/’Your pay hikes forget./No more annual increase,/Lest you show merit./And we may cut you [sic] job’ cause/you work for Gannett.
The rest of the song follows the progression of the strike, culminating with the workers winning the strike and still working for Gannett, spirit and dignity intact.
This is not the first time Washington-area union members have marched in support of their colleagues in other cities, said Bates, recalling a march on the New York Daily News office in 1990. In addition, Dale said this rally was not a one-time event and may be staged at other Gannett properties in other cities, but he declined to give further details.