Dispatches from the Next Newspaper War

Wounded egos, labor actions, and Powerpoint presentations at the Pioneer Press

"It's funny," Weyandt quips, "our members have been getting static from managers about taking their daily break to step outside and show solidarity with the union. But those same managers offered to fill in if people wanted to attend Taylor's dog and pony show."


Where's Billy Bragg when you need him?: The growing acrimony between labor and management at the Pi-Press is starting to wear some employees down, and two sources in the newsroom told me late last week that there's a small contingent of employees who are starting to grumble that the time's come to make a deal. A majority of the Guild's members, however, are getting angrier by the day and believe Taylor's PowerPoint strategy only proves management is getting nervous.

Michael Dvorak

On Friday, about 80 people turned out for Black Friday Break for Solidarity outside the newspaper's headquarters at 345 Cedar Street. Marchers wore black, carried signs, and held out hope that a "surprise musical guest" would show up to provide further inspiration. Alas, the entertainment reporter who tried to set up the appearance didn't have enough clout to guarantee the gig.

This week, representatives from the Guild will be pressing the flesh at the Minneapolis Hilton, where Minnesota's AFL-CIO is gathering for a statewide convention. A number of local unions have already penned letters of support and sent them to Pi-Press Publisher Harold Higgins, including the Central Labor Union Council and the American Postal Workers Union. Weyandt says the short-term goal is to get as many union-friendly folks as possible to sign a subscription cancellation pledge. So far, nearly 500 people have agreed to stop buying the Pi-Press if there is a work stoppage.

In order to prepare for a possible strike later this fall, forms are currently being distributed that give Guild members an opportunity to choose what times of the day they would prefer to picket. "There's no doubt a majority of our members are getting feistier," Weyandt says.


Pride, Part 2: Labor and management at the Pi-Press are sitting down for the first of two bargaining sessions today, August 13. The next meeting is August 19. Both sides agree that three major issues remain unresolved: wages, health care premiums, and strike sympathy language, which currently allows Guild members to walk off the job if another of the paper's smaller unions decides to strike.

Senior Pi-Press employees I've talked to this summer have suggested that it's the strike sympathy language, more than anything else, that is hanging up talks. Agreeing not to cross a co-worker's picket line is "a bedrock principle of unionism," columnist Nick Coleman told me in early July; management's insistence to take away that right is "a union busting strategy I can't accept."

Guild officer Mike Sweeney also notes that there are three other contracts out at the Pioneer Press, and if the Guild, which is the paper's largest union, gives up their sympathy language it all but guarantees that Knight Ridder will squash their smaller unions to save money. When I asked Jill Taylor if there is any chance the company would consider taking strike sympathy language off the table this week, in a good faith effort to avoid a strike vote, she would only repeat that it was still a "serious issue."

Rachleff guesses that the executives at Knight Ridder who advise Taylor are gambling that, when things get tight, Guild members at the Pi-Press will ultimately act purely out of self-interest. But the professor also believes the same sort of pride that drives the paper's best journalists to quibble over an anonymous quote might be the X-factor management is forgetting to consider. "This isn't only about what members of the Newspaper Guild feel they owe to other workers at the paper; I believe it's about their sense of self. To cave in now would be an affront to their self-respect. Now, of course, management probably has convinced themselves with research and reason that at a certain point this union will give in. But it seems to me there's an e minently human factor here that can't be predicted."

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