Lining up a series of "star nails" ? four-pronged nails crafted so one point is always sticking up ? Vega tracks what he calls "the progression of violence" as he shows a visitor star nails that range in size from a small twisted brad to a thick tangle of shivs as big as a man's hand.
Tucked in a corner of the office is a split log peppered with nails and an empty pint bottle of fortified wine left on the windshield of a replacement worker's car with a note reading, "Fucking scab bitch," it reads in part, "You'll pay."
"They drink this, and then they have the courage to leave this message," said Vega, who says all the objects in his office were used by strikers or sympathizers during the strike.
Union members say they have their own souvenirs of strike violence ? mostly cuts, bruises and worse inflicted by police or the newspapers' private security force.
"It's our people who have been sent to the emergency rooms with head injuries," Harry Cook, an Episcopalian priest and former Detroit Free Press writer, told a community meeting at St. Gerard's Roman Catholic Church in Detroit.
In his own cramped office, Jim St. Louis, secretary/treasurer of the Teamsters mailers local, recounts in emotional tones the injuries suffered by a colleague from batons wielded by guards from Vance International, the security firm specializing in labor disputes and hired by Detroit Newspapers.
Some of the most notorious vandalism in the strike ? such as the burning of an abandoned car outside a distribution center ? was likely done by the firm Detroit strikers refer to as "the Vance," St. Louis and other union officials suggest. Vance guards have been spotted putting star nails under their own vehicles, St. Louis said.
One incontrovertible fact is that there has been a lot of vandalism and a fair amount of violence ? although, by historical standards for Detroit's fabled labor wars, the 1995-96 newspaper strike is little more than a shoving match.
No one has been killed and few have been seriously injured.
Still, the strike has kept Detroit area police busy. In a Jan. 3 letter to Detroit Newspapers, the Sterling Heights finance director said, as of Dec. 22, the strike had cost the city $2,160,403 in overtime pay, extra riot supplies and vandalism to police vehicles.
Some 53 tires had been flattened and three windshields smashed, the letter said. Among the supplies required because of unrest at the newspaper's main printing plant and other sites in the suburb: $1,488 for pepper spray, $616.85 for riot shields and $3,194.64 for "clear-out grenades."
Detroit Newspapers has contributed $847,407 for police expenses since the strike began in July, the company says.
Vandalism and violence has subsided considerably after reaching a peak over Labor Day weekend with a series of confrontations at the Sterling Heights plant that led to dozens of arrests and injuries which seriously delayed delivery of the paper.
Nevertheless, on any given week, more than a third of News or Free Press coin boxes ? some 2,000 to 4,000 ? are disabled, Detroit Newspapers' Vega says.
"We've had 5,000 flat tires, 3,000 to 4,000 broken windshields," he said.
And vandalism has hit other businesses in Detroit as a result of the strike. There have been reports of damage to cars in the lots of auto dealers who continue to advertise in the papers.
In early January, the six striking unions signed an "informal" agreement with the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board not to engage in any illegal picketing or violence.
But on Feb. 8, the NLRB regional director, William Schaub, accused the unions of violating the agreement within days of its signing by blocking newspaper entrances and engaging in mass picketing.
On Feb. 27, Schaub said the unions violated the agreement and the NLRB filed a complaint against them, charging union members with placing star nails at the entrances of several of the newspapers' parking lots, with videotaping and interfering with nonstriking employees trying to go to work and with hurling objects at various newspaper buildings.
A trial was set for May 6.
"All I'm saying at this point is, 'Stop doing it,' " Schaub said.
For its part, the unions deny violating any laws by their activities.
"We feel we complied with the law," said Roger Kerson, spokesman for the unions' umbrella group, the Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions. "We think that's not fair and not founded in the facts. We're looking forward to our day in court. We don't think these charges are going to hold up."
On Feb. 11, the unions had kicked off a new picketing tactic: "ambulatory picketing" that targeted carriers.
The idea, mailers union official Jim St. Louis said, has been to follow carriers and leaflet households receiving the newspapers. The mobile picket also allows the unions to create a database on the papers' circulation, he said.
According to both union and management sources, there were no incidents on the first weekend of the ambulatory picketing.
However, even if all incidents were to cease, violence and vandalism remain a big barrier to a settlement. The unions insist on amnesty for employees fired during the strike because the company believes they were involved in violence or vandalism.
That's not going to happen, Detroit Newspapers head Frank Vega says.
"People who have broken windshields, firebombed vehicles, flattened tires ? we're not going to have amnesty for these individuals," Vega said.
?(A Costly Stike
? The finance director of Sterling Heights, where the Detroit Newspapers' production plant is located, said, as of Dec. 22, the strike had cost the city $2,160,403 in overtime pay, extra riot supplies and vandalism to police vehicles.
? Some 53 tires had been flattened and three windshields smashed.
? Among the supplies required because of unrest at the newspapers' main printing plant and other sites in the suburb: $1,488 for pepper spray, $616 for riot shields and $3,194 for "clear-out grenades."
? Detroit Newspapers says it has contributed $847,407 for police expenses since the strike began in July.) [Caption]
?(An injured demonstrator uses his shirt to dab blood off himself after being hit in the head during a clash last August between police and strike supporters at the Detroit Newspapers production plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. The unions and management blame one another for provoking the violence.) [Photo & Caption]
By: MARK FITZGERALD DETROIT NEWSPAPERS CHIEF Frank Vega maintains a little museum of instruments of mayhem in his office.