Pick A Side p. 26

By: Mark Fitzgerald Detroit Newspapers' chief challenges Chamber of Commerce and
United Way to choose a side in the ongoing newspaper strike sp.

DETROIT NEWSPAPERS' CHIEF Frank Vega is challenging the Detroit Chamber of Commerce and United Way charity with a question borrowed from the old union song: Which side are you on?
Vega is irritated that these pillars of the business establishment are staying neutral during the strike against the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.
So now Detroit Newspapers, which runs business and production operations of the separately-owned papers, is considering dropping its longtime membership in the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, and withdrawing from participation in the United Way of Southeast Michigan.
The chamber upset Vega when it refused to support resolutions he offered that would put the business group on record supporting management in the strike and condemning the sporadic violence wreaked by some union members.
In addition, the chamber has refused to let the News regularly use a tunnel that connects the chamber officers with the newspaper as a way to shuttle employees past picket lines. The chamber building once belonged to the News ? which donated it to group in 1984.
"By taking a neutral stance, the chamber isn't being neutral. It is supposed to support its members," Vega said in a Detroit News story written by reporter Charles E. Ramirez. "I can only assume because many of its members have union shops, it is acting timidly, trying not to rock the boat.
"We have to reconsider our support of the Chamber of Commerce. Why should we support an organization that has a philosophy of supporting economic development and business and does just the opposite?" he said.
In a recent interview, Detroit Newspapers spokeswoman Susie Ellwood said joint agency officials are still discussing internally whether to drop membership.
According to the News, Detroit Newspapers pays about $20,000 annually in dues to the chamber, which with 10,000 member businesses is the second-largest chamber in the United States.
Chamber president Dick Blouse says his organization has never involved itself in the labor affairs of its member businesses.
"We just are not in the business of getting involved in the business of businesses," Blouse said in a telephone interview.
"We certainly don't condone the violence. We certainly don't condone the secondary boycotts. But we have not and will not get involved in issues of a business' labor relations."
Blouse said Vega's request for explicit backing by the chamber is the first such request in the memory of officials at the business organization.
"For example, the [Big Three automakers] have never requested it," Blouse said.
United Way earned Vega's wrath ? and another threat to drop participation ? when it asked Detroit Newspapers to pull out of a job fair the charity was cosponsoring Oct. 10 at Oakland Community College. Organizers said they were concerned that union supporters might disrupt the event.
"We've been staunch supporters of the United Way," Vega told the News' Ramirez.
"It is the only charity we allow to solicit contributions from employees in our offices. But there are a lot of other charities out there that are worthwhile."
Meanwhile, a big Detroit retailer took legal action because of pressure it says it is getting from the six newspaper unions who have been on strike since July 13.
Art Van Furniture, the biggest furniture retailer in Michigan, filed an unfair labor charge with the regional National Labor Relations Board, accusing the unions of conducting an illegal secondary boycott.
The complaint says union members ? angered by the chain's decision to continue advertising in the two papers ? have blocked store entrances, insulted and harassed customers and urged a boycott.
After the NLRB regional director threatened to issue a complaint against them, the unions agreed to stop picketing and blocking store doorways. The unions also agreed to a one-week "hiatus" on informational leafleting beginning Oct. 14.
The NLRB also announced that it will hold trial Nov. 13 on the unfair labor practice charges the unions have brought against Detroit Newspapers, and will begin a trial on the charge Detroit Newspapers brought against Detroit Newspaper Guild Local 22 at the end of October.


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