News Staffers Join UAW p. 36

By: TONY CASE NEWSROOM EMPLOYEES AT the Advocate in Stamford, Conn., voted 20-12 this month to join the United Auto Workers, one of the country's most powerful labor unions.
The Advocate, which is owned by Times Mirror Co., is the first daily newspaper to be represented by the UAW, although the union has been a presence at New York's weekly
Village Voice since 1979.
"We were all pushing hard for the union because we wanted a say in everything that affected us as workers ? our salaries, benefits and workplace rules," said Advocate reporter Dan Mangan, who was active in bringing the UAW to Stamford. "We were tired of being treated arbitrarily and unilaterally."
The UAW will represent reporters, photographers and some editors at the 30,000-circulation daily. The paper has 450 full-time equivalents.
The newspaper's management, predictably, wasn't happy about the vote. Spokeswoman Barbara Bind said: "We didn't believe, and we still don't believe, that newsroom employees or any of our employees need to be represented by a union."
Flat profits and mounting expenses, especially those related to newsprint, have forced newspaper companies to make deep cuts in staffing, and nowhere more than the Advocate's corporate owner. Times Mirror's dramatic downsizing under chairman Mark H. Willes, especially at the flagship Los Angeles Times, is well documented.
The much-smaller Connecticut paper ? in upscale Fairfield County, about an hour's drive from New York City ? has been spared the ax. But news employees there have voiced other concerns, complaining that vacant positions go unfilled, salaries aren't up to snuff and health insurance benefits are eroding.
"We're dealing with intelligent people who have a vast knowledge of their field, and they want the opportunity to have a say in how the workplace is shaped," said UAW representative Julie Kushner, who helped to organize Advocate staffers.
Unionized newspaper employees typically are affiliated with the Newspaper Guild or the Communications Workers of America. But the fruitless bargaining tactics of traditional newspaper unions in high-profile cases such as New York, Boston and Detroit ? where the strike against the Detroit News, published by Gannett Co. Inc., and Knight-Ridder Inc.'s Detroit Free Press is in its ninth brutal month, with no end in sight ? may have some workers seeking stronger representation.
Most of the UAW's one million members hold manufacturing jobs, but the union has expanded its presence in professional fields. White-collar workers now make up 10% of its ranks.
Kushner said the UAW had bolstered its roster of professional employees by addressing issues of particular interest to them.
"We've fought for child-care benefits, domestic-partner benefits, protection against sexual harassment, ergonomic issues, health and safety issues," she explained, "all of which you find white-collar workers very concerned about."
Voice media writer James Ledbetter, former shop steward for his UAW local, believes the union has much to offer those who make a living in newspapers.
"It's a very smart, very active union, generally speaking, and more confrontational and quicker on its feet than the Newspaper Guild," he said. "Of course, that varies from local to local, but for newspaper employees in the New York area, I think the union would be very attractive."
During the most recent contract negotiations at the Voice ? in 1993, when givebacks were the order of the day at many papers ? the UAW managed to secure members' wages and health-care benefits.
The UAW isn't involved in bargaining at the Detroit dailies but, nonetheless, is a strong ally of strikers there. In a city that has long been a stronghold of organized labor, and of the UAW in particular, the auto workers have given protesting newspaper employees moral and financial support, even financing their strike paper.
As Newspaper Guild president Linda Foley pointed out, the UAW has stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the Detroit workers.
The UAW concluded its recent convention in the Motor City with an elaborate rally at Detroit Newspapers headquarters, replete with waving flags and blaring rock music.
"As long as you last," UAW president Stephen P. Yokich told 3,000 demonstrators, "we'll be standing next to you in solidarity."
Foley doesn't buy the suggestion that the Guild's battles in Detroit or anywhere else have moved newspaper people to seek alternatives to her union. In fact, the Detroit standoff and ensuing publicity actually generated several organizing drives, according to the union boss.
While stopping short of identifying any prospective Guild affiliates, Foley contended that their newspapers are "much more major than the Stamford Advocate."
?(The Advocate, owned by the Times Mirror Co., is the first daily
newspaper to be represented by the UAW.) [Caption & Photo]


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