New York Unions Remain Optimistic p. 18

By: Tony Case UNIONS REPRESENTING workers at New York's daily newspapers are bound to survive regardless of the many hits they have sustained, a longtime lawyer and union adviser believes.
"The newspaper unions in New York have taken more on the chin than perhaps any other unions in the country
. . . but despite all the troubles they've faced and the concessions they've had to make, they are still in existence and they're not about to go under," said Theodore Kheel, whose relationship with newspaper unions dates to the 1960s, when he was a mediator during the longest newspaper strike in the city's history.
Kheel and others connected to New York media unions met at a discussion last month sponsored by the Deadline Club, the New York chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
The title of the panel ? "Media Unions: Dead or Alive? Can Media Unions Survive The Challenge Of Today's Economic Climate?" ? paints a bleak picture, but Kheel maintained that the collective bargaining process is "indispensible" in a free-market society and predicted that "it's here to stay."
At the same time, he suggested that unions must learn new tactics ? which he did not specify ? if they are to carve out deals for their members in an industry as obsessed as ever with penny pinching.
New York newspaper unions representing both white- and blue-collar employees in recent times have suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of management at two of the city's tabloids and its single daily broadsheet.
The Newspaper Guild, which represents 4,200 editorial and advertising employees and other nonproduction workers, has fought ? and lost ? one battle after another.
The union was unable to save 170 jobs eliminated at the New York Daily News when real estate and publishing magnate Mortimer Zuckerman bought the tabloid. At the New York Post, Guild members stood up to media baron Rupert Murdoch when he threatened to fire any employee he wanted to, only to see the walkout falter when the drivers and craft union members crossed their picket lines.
Now the Guild faces grueling negotiations at the New York Times, which announced a few weeks ago that it would reduce its staff by unspecified numbers, not exempting managers and Guild members. The paper's management has reached agreements through the year 2000 with all unions except the Guild, whose members have been without a contract for nearly a year.
Guild president Barry Lipton, who also participated in the discussion, conceded that the union faces big problems, acknowledging the Times situation and a declining membership base. But while the work force the Guild represents is smaller, he noted, at least the jobs largely remain ? unlike the case of the craft unions.
"It's not like the platemakers or typographers, whose work has disappeared over the years," he said.
After 15 years of union work, Lipton has seen the pendulum swing in favor of both management and employees, and he maintained that the unions are not finished.
"Nothing is going to be perfect or anywhere near where it was, but over a period of time, I think you'll see as the industry changes and unions disappear . . . there are going to remain unions in the newspaper business," he said.
Even in an age of quality circles and W. Edwards Deming disciples, "the average boss does not consider the point of view of the employee," Kheel said, adding, "It is absolutely essential that the employees have somebody to speak for them."
Mike Weber, who represents the editorial contingent of Graphic Communications International Union Local 406 ? an organization of both white- and blue-collar workers, including reporters, pressmen, drivers and building maintenance people, at Newsday and New York Newsday ? told the gathering he believes this integrated union structure may be the wave of the future for organized labor.
"In our shop, if I walk, I don't have to worry if the pressmen are going to walk with me because if we take a vote, it's everybody taking a vote to walk and we walk together," he said.
Weber clearly was thrilled to detail terms of Newsday's contract with its reporters: a minimum salary of $1,200 a week for those with at least five years of experience plus a no-layoff clause and improved health-care benefits.
However, this giddiness subsided when he spoke of the expected round of negotiations with management next year. "They'll be back at us and I think they'll be back at us really strong because they'll look at what happened at the New York Post, they'll look at what happened at the Daily News and they're seeing what's happening at the New York Times and they're saying, 'If that's happening in this market, why can't we get what they're getting?' " he said.
"I think that our next negotiations are going to be very rough negotiations and I think we're going to find ourselves in a tough spot. I don't know if we're prepared for it . . . but I think we'll be ready to settle this. And we're going to be aggressive."


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