Strike Ends In Detroit p.6

By: Mark Fitzgerald & George Garneau SIX STRIKING unions offered to return to work unconditionally, and Detroit Newspapers Inc. accepted, meaning the strike against the jointly operated Detroit News and Detroit Free Press is officially over after 19 bitter months.
But the bitterness is just as strong. The strikers remain out of work in what they call a lockout.
The unions made their offer on Valentine's Day ? 584 days after 2,000 workers walked off the job ? and management accepted five days later, but refused to rehire the strikers.
Instead, as part of a four-point plan, Detroit Newspapers agreed to take back as many former strikers as possible, but only when jobs open up within the ranks of current employees, made up of replacement workers and union members who earlier crossed picket lines and returned to work.
Management said the "vast majority" of former strikers are already working elsewhere and offered to rehire former strikers from a "preferential hiring list" in order of seniority to fill job openings "as they occur within each bargaining unit."
The other points of the management plan include: a $2 million training fund for employees whose jobs were eliminated in efficiency moves and for former strikers who choose not to return; a relocation fund to find jobs for strikers at other newspapers; and a pledge not to contest workers' claims for unemployment benefits.
Free Press publisher Heath Meriwether called the management proposal "an important first step in the beginning of the healing process that our employees, their families and our community want."
He said managers need to discuss how many former strikers want to return to "a limited number of jobs available now." Returning strikers would supplement the efforts of replacements and "about" 60% of Free Press employees who already went back.
Meriwether called on the unions to "join us in helping grow our business and not try to destroy it."
Robert H. Giles, editor and publisher of the News, said management's plan "reflects our interest in moving forward constructively to provide as many options and as many opportunities as we can for the former strikers . . . .It is our hope that the rhetoric and finger-pointing will subside."
But management's response to the return-to-work offer angered the unions, which promised to go to federal court in search of an injunction ordering the papers to take back strikers.
"They have rejected our offer, and as a result of their rejection, we consider this now to be a lockout," said Al Derey, chairman of the Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions. "We're not refusing to work. We're locked out."
Derey accused the newspapers of "trying to dupe the public" into believing they accepted the union offer to return to work, but instead transferred the jobs and the seniority of former strikers to replacement workers.
He vowed that legal picketing would continue, as would reader and advertiser boycotts, and corporate campaigns against the newspaper's owners, and the unions would continue to publish their weekly strike newspaper, the Detroit Sunday Journal.
The unions have made a good-faith effort to end the strike and return to work, Derey said, but management, "has again told us and this community to go to hell."
Earlier, union leaders labored mightily to portray their return-to-work offer as simply another phase in the bitter strike against the Detroit papers and their big chain owners. But the newspapers' initial reaction was to treat the offer as the end of the strike.
"The reality of the situation is that if the unions make an unconditional offer to return, the strike is legally and officially over," said Susie Ellwood, senior vice president/market development for Detroit Newspapers, which runs noneditorial operations for Gannett Co.'s News and Knight-Ridder Inc.'s Free Press.
Similarly, Free Press publisher Meriwether said he was "pleased that this strike appears to be over, but we're disappointed by the union calls to continue these boycotts."
Spokeswoman Ellwood said the unions "should be supporting our efforts to return to normal."
The strike paper's front page headline about the return-to-work offer: "STRIKE ON!"
Announcing the offer to return to work Feb. 14, Derey said the unions were "raising the stakes. We're continuing to strike. We're continuing to boycott. There's really only one difference ? today we've got a new strategy to generate more power and more pressure to win a fair contract."
However, in a Feb. 18 letter to Detroit Newspapers, Sam McKnight, attorney for the union umbrella group, wrote, "The unions have declared an end to their strike ? the concerted work stoppage."
The new union strategy pins the strikers' hopes on winning their case, before the National Labor Relations Board, accusing management of unfair labor practices that caused the strike. An administrative law judge has completed a hearing on the case and is expected to rule sometime this spring.
If that complaint ? which is virtually certain to be appealed no matter what the decision ? is upheld, strikers would be entitled to return to jobs now performed by 1,300 new employees the newspapers say are permanent replacements.
For union leaders facing members who have walked picket lines for 20 months, the biggest-selling point about an unfair labor practices ruling in their favor is that the papers could be forced to pay striking workers retroactively beginning with the unconditional offer to return to work.
Derey ? head of the biggest striking local, Teamsters 372, representing 1,150 circulation district managers, customer-service employees and truck drivers ? asserted at the press conference that "the meter is now running, on back pay and penalties that could cost the papers $250,000 a day.
Detroit Newspapers officials scoff at that number, which they say is far higher than even the prestrike payroll.
Derey called the back-to-work offer "a bold new strategy that will dramatically increase the financial pressure on these corporations. We're launching a strategy that will increase our power and strengthen
Bitterness continues as management offers peace plan but few jobs;
replacement workers stay
?(Here's how the unions' strike paper played the story of their offer to return to work) [Caption & Photo]
# Editor & Publisher n February 22, 1997


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