Operation Airlift p.26

By: Mark Fitzgerald Joint agency for the combined Detroit News and Free Press use
helicopters to get newspapers past gates blocked by strikers sp.

WHEN A LARGE group of strikers and their sympathizers blocked gates at the Detroit Newspapers' production plant in suburban Sterling Heights for the second consecutive weekend, Sept. 9 and 10, the joint agency used rented helicopters to airlift copies of the combined Detroit News and Free Press.
Detroit Newspapers vice president for market development Susie Ellwood said in a telephone interview that the helicopters shuttled "several hundred thousand" copies of the strikebound paper. Ellwood said she could not give a specific number of copies carried by the choppers, nor would she say how much the airlift cost, nor even how many of the leased helicopters were used in the surprise operation.
"The number was fluid . . . they were on-call basis to be used as needed," she said.
Between the helicopters and the trucks which emerged from the plant as the group of picketers thinned from about 1,500 at the peak of the demonstration, "more than a million" copies ? essentially a normal pre-strike delivery level for the Sunday paper ? were distributed, Ellwood said.
Union leaders did not immediately return phone messages, but they have scoffed at management distribution claims since 2,500 production and editorial workers walked off their jobs July 13.
"If the newspapers showed the same imagination and determination at the bargaining table that they show in trying to get out a scab product, we would have reached a fair settlement weeks ago," Detroit Newspapers Guild spokesman Joe Swickard told the Associated Press.
There were no violent incidents or arrests at the Sept. 9 picketing, in contrast to the scuffling, rock throwing and, by Sterling Heights police, pepper gassing in two days of protests at the plant gates over Labor Day weekend. About three dozen picketers ? some of them non-strikers from a youthful fringe group who fancy themselves the revolutionary heirs of Leon Trotsky ? were arrested.
Ellwood says the helicopters will be used again if necessary.
Detroit Newspapers also renewed its efforts to get a formal court injunction limiting picketers at the gates to no more than six persons. A hearing on that request, scheduled for Sept. 11, was canceled, but Ellwood said the papers expected to get a hearing soon.
Bargaining sessions were scheduled during the week between the Detroit News and its Guild unit as well as between Detroit Newspapers and the Graphic Communications International Union Local 13N, Ellwood said.


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