By: Randy Dotinga
Tensions Rise In San Diego
by Randy Dotinga
A squabble in front of the San Diego Union-Tribune’s main office ended
in the arrest of a union president and growing tension over labor
relations at Southern California’s second-largest newspaper.
Meanwhile, the Union-Tribune chapter of the Graphic Communications
International Union has launched its second advertising campaign aimed
at persuading readers to cancel their subscriptions. The newspaper’s
pressmen have been working without a contract since 1992.
The 120-member GCIU chapter is one of only two unions left at the
Union-Tribune; the other, the Teamsters, represents about 50 truck
In a series of employee-supported actions, three unions at the newspaper
have been disbanded over the past several years. The largest, the local
chapter of the Newspaper Guild-CWA, vanished after a bitterly contested decertification vote in 1998.
The 406-378 vote was a serious blow to the Newspaper Guild. Since 1976,
no union chapter of a major newspaper had held a vote on whether to
Critics said the San Diego chapter was unnecessary, costly and an
impediment to merit raises.
The citizen’s arrest of GCIU chapter president Jack Finneran came on
Thursday morning, a day after the newspaper fired him from his job as a
pressman. The reasons for the firing have not been disclosed.
Finneran said he was passing out fliers outside the Union-Tribune building
with Jeff Alger, a union secretary-treasurer who had been suspended.
Security officers asked the two to leave, and they refused, Finneran said.
‘We explained that this was a concerted union activity, and we had the
right to be there,’ he said. The newspaper then called the San Diego
Police Department, and a company representative issued a citizen’s
Officers arrived and cited Finneran for trespassing. He then left. Alger
agreed to leave and was not cited.
Union-Tribune officials declined to comment about the incident.
The newspaper ran a brief item about the confrontation the next day in
the business section. The article described what happened but did not
include quotes from management or union officials.
Current and former union officials say they have long passed out fliers
in front of the building in an area near the employees’ entrance and
parking lot. That is where Finneran stood, they said.
‘It’s always been a speaker’s corner, although we usually don’t speak,’
said education reporter Lisa Petrillo, former president of the San Diego
Newspaper Guild. ‘It’s a congenial place. People come out and have a
cigarette and wait for rides.’
Finneran said he would challenge both his firing and the trespassing
The arrest of Finneran was a major topic in the newsroom on Thursday.
Many reporters and editors saw the police cars as they arrived at work.
Several of the Union-Tribune’s most high-profile reporters have been
hired over the past two years. That means a significant segment of the
newsroom staff has never known life under a union at the newspaper.
But supporters of the Newspaper Guild-CWA remain and continue to speak
their minds. Business reporter Craig D. Rose, former president of the
local guild chapter, was furious about the arrest of Finneran.
‘We saw it as an attempt to suppress someone’s First Amendment rights,’
Rose said. ‘How can a union conduct its business if it can’t go onto the
property of the company?’
Relations between the GCIU and the newspaper have been tattered for years.
Finneran said disputes center on pay and benefits.
Experienced pressmen make $21 an hour, a pay rate that hasn’t changed since
1991, Finneran said. The pressmen also pay significantly more in health
insurance than other workers at the newspaper, he said.
Company officials were not immediately available to confirm that.
On Aug. 7, the union launched a new advertising campaign on radio stations
and a local cable television system. The union spent about $20,000 on
another campaign last year.
In a new television ad, union members complain about their pay and health
benefits and ask readers to cancel subscriptions. ‘Something still stinks
at the Union-Tribune,’ the ad says.
The ad contends that 25,000 people have canceled their subscriptions already.
The Union-Tribune has a daily circulation of 376,604, according to the 2000
Editor & Publisher International Year Book. It is the nation’s 20th largest newspaper.
When circulation dipped slightly last year, newspaper management said it
reflected a national decline in Sunday subscription rates.
Randy Dotinga is a free-lance writer based in San Diego. He writes
frequently for E&P Online.
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher