Open Shop In Detroit p.20

By: MARK FITZGERALD TEN MONTHS INTO the strike against Detroit's two daily papers and their joint operating agency, the Detroit Free Press declared an impasse, implemented its final contract offer and asserted that the newsroom represented by the Newspaper Guild for more than half a century is now an open shop.
"On Wednesday [April 24] we declared that the talks were hopelessly deadlocked and that we were at an impasse," Free Press executive editor Robert G. McGruder said. "Our last face-to-face meeting was February 13."
Last July 6 ? a week before 2,500 workers from six editorial and production unions walked off their jobs to begin what has become the longest newspaper strike in Detroit's history ? the Detroit News unilaterally implemented its final contract offer on its own Guild unit.
The Guild responded by filing an unfair labor charge. Trial before the regional National Labor Relations Board on that and other unfair labor charges against the papers and the JOA began recently in Detroit.
Union officials said they are likely to challenge the Free Press move, as well.
"The News tried that ? and they're in federal court over it," said Roger Kerson, spokesman for the Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions. "You can't just throw something on the table and say, 'well, you didn't say yes,' so we're at an impasse."
Well over half of the journalists and clerical staff who were represented by the Guild when the strike began have crossed the picket lines to return to work at both papers. Guild units bargain separately with Knight-Ridder Inc.'s Free Press and Gannett Co.'s News. Production unions bargain with the Detroit Newspaper Agency, which operates business, production and distribution functions of the papers.
At the Free Press, McGruder said, 160 of the 290 employees working at the time of the strike crossed the picket lines. About 90 replacement workers have been hired since August, he said. There are about 220 employees in the newsroom now, McGruder said.
Under the contract implemented unilaterally, Free Press employees received a 3% across-the-board wage increase on April 24, and another 1% across-the-board increase May 1. All employees will receive a further 1% increase on May 1, 1997.
The Free Press also implemented the most controversial of its proposals ? a pool from which merit raises will be awarded. Along with the Guild's demand that all striking employees return to work, merit pay is the most contentious issue between the newspaper and union.
With the April 24 contract implementation, merit raises were awarded from a pool of money that represented 1% of total newsroom payroll. Merit raises from a pool of 2% of payroll were to be awarded May 1. In 1997, merit pay increases will also be awarded from a pool representing 1% of payroll.
Union spokesman Kerson said the raises reflect desperation by the newspaper.
"It says to me that this will allow them to pump some money into the newsroom. They've got people working under some hard circumstances: They've got bishops being arrested in front of the paper. No one will talk
to them. They're in difficult circumstances," Kerson said.
The Guild membership status of employees who have returned to work at the Free Press is not clear. Some, especially those who crossed the picket lines in the early days of the strike, resigned from the union.
The Free Press has the oldest continuing Guild unit in Detroit.
According to Paper Losses, Bryan Gruley's history of Detroit newspapers, Detroit Newspaper Guild Local 22 was formed by employees at the old Detroit Times in 1936. Ironically, repeated organizing efforts at the Free Press were rebuffed until the paper was bought in 1940 by Jack Knight, who signed a contract with the union soon after completing purchase of the newspaper.
?(Detroit Free Press executive editor Robert McGruder said 160 of the 290 employees working at the time of the strike crossed the picket lines. About 90 replacement workers have been hired since August. There are about 220 employees in the newsroom now.) [Photo & Caption]


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