August 1, 2008: As Convoy goes to press, Teamster drivers, pressmen, and mailers at the Minneapolis Star Tribune are facing separate proposed contract reopeners that would cut their wages by 10 percent.
The three new contracts are supposed to help the newspaper financially. But some members are suspicious, especially because the company has been making statements this year that it is solvent and making good profits.
The new deal was negotiated in secret, with International rep Brad Slawson leading the talks. Rank-and filers have been distributing leaflets, urging a No vote.
Two years ago the private equity firm Avista bought the Star Tribune. Now the union is warning that the paper may go bankrupt if workers don’t accept the cuts. There have been rumors of bankruptcy circulating in the media, but the publisher Chris Harte has been denying them.
“We are a strong and profitable company,” he told employees in February.
In July, the newspaper withheld a quarterly interest payment to holders of second-tier debt, but Harte again publicly denied bankruptcy speculation, saying it was restructuring its debt plan with senior creditors.
Members of the elected bargaining committees from the three locals were kept out of the negotiations, and it’s been up to rank-and-file members to educate members about the details of the agreement.
“When members have asked questions about what’s in the agreement, our BA has told them to wait until the ratification meeting,” said Rick Sather, a Local 638 driver. “That’s just not acceptable when our jobs are on the line.”
Three different locals represent Teamsters at the paper: drivers are in Local 638, mailers in Local 120, and pressmen in GCC 1-M.
Members from all three unions, as well as other members of Machinists and the Newspaper Guild, have formed the Newspaper Workers Rank-and-File Solidarity Support Committee to give members an informed vote.
A flyer by the group, informing members about the concessions, says: “Concessions don’t save jobs.”
For the drivers, the new contract comes just one year into their four-year contract. The pressmen still have 28 months left on their contract, and the mailers 11 months.
This is the second time this summer Local 638 members have been asked to water down their agreement. In June the union asked members to give up their 20¢ raise slated to come in on July 1. Members voted unanimously not to vote on the offer, and they got the raise bump.
“Everyone knows the newspaper industry is having tough times, and members are rightfully worried about our jobs and our future. But our union has to be about more than just fear,” Sather said.
“Our job is to show that when we work together, we can have hope. That starts with keeping members in the loop.”