TALKS BETWEEN DETROIT'S two daily papers and six of their 11 unions have continued well past the April 30 contract deadline and labor rhetoric is heating up a little.
The Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions, whose six union members represent about 2,500 employees at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, accuse the papers' joint operating agency of targeting the engraver's union for decertification.
Council chairman Al Derey said the unions had obtained an internal memo from Gannett senior vice president John Jaske that Derey says outlines a strategy for decertifying GCIU Local 289, which represents engraving department employees. In the six-year-old JOA, Gannett's News and Knight-Ridder's Free Press compete editorially but have combined business and production functions.
"The unions have been negotiating in good faith to get fair contracts, but this agency memo reveals that the newspapers' agenda is to undermine bargaining," Derey said in a prepared statement.
Council unions say the memo outlines "successful efforts to decertify local unions representing employees in the press room, composing room, mail room and engraving departments at other Gannett-owned newspapers."
"The newspapers' strategy has been to try to divide and conquer the unions and to provoke an ineffective strike by smaller groups of employees," Derey said.
But Detroit Newspapers senior vice president of labor relations, Timothy Kelleher, said the memo does not represent any management plan at all.
The memo was simply a response to a question from a supervisor about the circumstances of decertification at Gannett papers.
"That was it ? it certainly is not a strategy," Kelleher said in a telephone interview.
Detroit Newspapers has settled with five of its 11 unions, including the machinists who agreed to a 10.3% raise over the next three years.
Several other unions, including Newspaper Guild Local 22, have taken strike authorization votes.
Council chairman Derey characterized management's posture in the talks as "confrontational, provocative and greedy" and said bargaining has been "unproductive."
Unions are especially upset at Detroit Newspapers for what they say is a threat to eliminate about 300 mailer and driver jobs by outsourcing its inserting to an Allentown, Pennsylvania inserter.
Management labor chief Kelleher said the outsourcing is "only one of a number of options we have" and that management only notified the unions of the possibility because of the requirements of the federal plant-closing law.
"We do not want to move that work out of Detroit. We think it makes a lot more sense to keep it here. We want to work out an agreement with the mailers," Kelleher said.
But the problem, Kelleher added, is that Detroit Newspapers is not getting the efficiencies it might expect out of its relatively new $22 million state-of-the-art inserting facility.
"It is operating at about 50% of the efficiencies we have seen at other papers and it runs with about 35% more personnel than we have seen at other papers. We have been discussing this for about two years . . . but apparently there is little interest on the part of the mailers' in improving efficiencies," Kelleher said.
About a week after Kelleher's statement, Detroit Newspapers cancelled the federal plant closing notice on its suburban inserting facility.
But the problem, Kelleher added, is that Detroit Newspapers is not getting the efficiencies it might expect out of its relatively new $22 million
state-of-the-art inserting facility.
By: Mark Fitzgerald Bargaining at Detroit papers continues beyond contract deadline sp.