management, unions talk more frequently ? but fruitlessly sp.
ON DAY 51 of the strike against Detroit's daily newspapers, 3,000 strikers and their supporters managed to do something they had failed to do in the bitter labor fight: Delay distribution of the combined Detroit News and Free Press.
In an overnight demonstration Sept. 2 and 3 that turned violent, picketers blocked the gate of Detroit Newspapers' Sterling Heights production plant and prevented distribution of the Sunday edition for about 15 hours.
When the crowd had dwindled to about 50 picketers at 8:20 a.m., the trucks began to roll.
Detroit News editor and publisher Robert H. Giles said more than one million copies of the Sunday paper were delivered by 1 p.m. Sunday. Before the strike, the circulation of the combined Sunday paper was 1,107,645.
Strikers clashed with police and private security guards at the Sterling Heights plant again on Labor Day in a more violent confrontation that resulted in several injuries and arrests.
Frank Kortsch, spokesman for the largest striking Teamsters local, said 36 picketers had been arrested, most on the charge of "unlawful assembly with intent to riot."
Kortsch said the Labor Day picketing delayed distribution of the paper and limited it to an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 copies, while editor and publisher Giles said there was no delay and some 730,000 copies, normal for the strike period, were delivered. Before the strike, the combined circulation of the separate weekday editions of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press was 886,228.
Giles condemned the "escalation" of violence and said the "comments of the union leaders [show] they are clearly willing to break the law in order to prevent distribution of the paper."
For his part, Kortsch said union leaders are "not happy" with the violence.
"We're telling [rank and file strikers] that we're playing the papers' game if we engage in violence. A game in the sense that that's what they want us to do, and in the sense that they are playing that game. It was the security guards who precipitated" the violence on Labor Day, Kortsch said.
Giles said the papers were seeking a court injunction to limit picketing at the production site.
The striking unions won another victory at the regional National Labor Relations Board when its director issued a complaint alleging the strike was caused in part by management's unfair labor practices. If the complaint is upheld ? and with hearings and appeals that could take up to two years or more ? it would forbid the company from permanently replacing strikers.
As they have responded to other complaints by the NLRB regional office, the papers reiterated their contention that they have bargained properly and that they will fight the charges at hearings.
A short and, according to both sides, unproductive bargaining session was held between negotiators for Detroit Newspapers and the Teamsters on Sept. 1 and no talks were scheduled until at least Sept. 10.
In negotiations with striking newsroom employees, the Free Press put a new offer on the table Aug. 30 that would have granted a 10% raise over three years, but had several other features the Newspaper Guild Local 22 rejected.
Among them: 50% of the increase would be based on merit evaluations, Guild members would be required to cross the picket lines of production workers and the newsroom would become an "open shop," that is, union membership would not be a requirement for employment.
Despite the Guild rejection, more striking Free Press journalists crossed the picket lines as the week went on. The paper's best-known sportswriter, Mitch Albom, was among the journalists who returned to work Sept. 5.
More than 125 of the 274 Guild members and former members have crossed the picket lines. At the Detroit News, about 80 of 190 Guild strikers have returned to work, editor and publisher Giles said.
Giles was personally targeted for a demonstration Sunday, Sept. 3 when Detroit Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and other clergy held a news conference outside the Presbyterian church Giles regularly attends. Gumbleton called the hiring of replacement workers by the Detroit papers "unjust and immoral."
Giles, who said he was not at the church because he was out of town for the weekend, was targeted apparently because of a News editorial and a letter he wrote defending the hiring of replacements as a way to give both sides serious incentives to settle the strike.
"If employers cannot replace striking workers, the effect is to give the unions a monopoly grip on the workplace. This would put the newspapers at a significant disadvantage because the News and Free Press have no such monopoly over the delivery of news," Giles wrote.
Meanwhile, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters launched a campaign from its Washington headquarters to embarrass Gannett Company executives.
Teamsters members, joined by members of the Newspaper Guild, the Graphic Communications International Union and other newspaper labor groups, distributed handbills demanding the chain fire Detroit Newspapers president and chief executive officer Frank Vega for alleged insider stock trading.
Leaflets accusing Gannett of "moral hypocrisy" were distributed in front of the offices of three Gannett board of directors members in Washington, New York City and Chicago. The handbills noted Vega paid $98,338 in 1994 to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint that he used illegal insider information to profit from trading of an upstate New York bank's stock.
A former Gannett official, Thomas J. Farrell, was charged with initiating the scheme, which also involved four other people. In the settlement, Vega did not admit guilt or innocence of the charges.
"I find it interesting that a union, under the oversight of the federal government for its criminally corrupt history, is attempting to cast stones," Vega said in a statement reacting to the Teamsters campaign.
?(Sterling Heights, Mich. police, dressed in riot gear, attempt to clear striking newspaper union workers from the driveaway of the Detroit News and Free Press pinting plant on Sept. 2. The crowd of about 1,200 strikes and supporters for 15 hours successfully kept trucks carrying newspapers from leaving the plant) [Photo & Caption]
By: Mark Fitzgerald Strikers slow delivery at Detroit papers, clash with police;