August 6, 2008: When the Star Tribune’s pressmen turned down management’s contract proposal last Thursday, they ignored a threat from their own leadership: without a “yes” vote, the company would “have a tough time” making a September debt payment, potentially another step closer to bankruptcy.
The Strib missed a quarterly payment in June; at the time, publisher Chris Harte told Strib columnist Neal St. Anthony the paper was hanging on to the cash to help restructure its debt. The next scheduled payment would fall in September.
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August 1, 2008: Teamster pressmen at the Minneapolis Star Tribune have killed a concessionary agreement by a vote of 77 to 27.
The deal would have cut GCC Local 1-M members’ wages by 10 percent.
Drivers from Local 638 and mailers from Local 120 voted to approve concessions at the newspaper. But the agreements were tied together, and the pressmen’s No vote has stopped all three.
This is one victory in a big battle. Now all three unions will go back to the bargaining table.
For the drivers, the proposed concession came just one year into their four-year contract. The pressmen still have 28 months left on their old contract, and the mailers 11 months.
The concessions were supposed to help the newspaper financially—even though the Star Tribune’s parent company, Avista, has been making statements this year that it is solvent and making good profits.
“We are a strong and profitable company,” publisher Chris Harte told employees in February.
Rank-and-File Network Informed Members
The new deal was negotiated in secret, with International rep Brad Slawson leading the talks.
It was up to working Teamsters to keep members informed.
Members from all three unions, as well as other members of the Machinists and the Newspaper Guild, 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, said: “Concessions don’t save jobs,” and asked members to “Vote No.”
This is the second time this summer Star Tribune Teamsters have rejected concessions. In June Local 638 asked drivers 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,” said Rick Sather, a Local 638 driver.
“That’s our job, to show that when we work together, we can have some hope.”
April 2, 2007: It can be hard for small locals to survive these days—especially when we are going up against big multinational corporations.
But when two small GCC locals with the same employer tried to merge, the GCC national leadership stood in the way and instead sent some of the members into an entirely different local—even though the membership of both locals and the GCC National Convention voted to approve their merger.
It started in September 2005 when the members of two small Denver locals, 440-M and 22-N, voted to merge. Both locals represent members at the Denver Post.
Instead of allowing the merger, the GCC General Board decided to transfer 440-M members into a third local, part of GCC District Council 2.
District Council 2 has been gobbling up smaller GCC locals across the western half of the United States. By the end of 2005, the last time reports were available, DC 2 reported a membership of nearly 9,000 members.
District Council 2 has multiple seats on the GCC General Board. Five DC 2 officers were in the $100,000 Club last year. The officers of Local 440-M are working members.
Last June, 440-M appealed to the GCC Convention. That body—the supreme authority of the GCC—rejected the General Board’s decision. The Convention voted by a 2-1 margin to let the members of the two independent locals merge.
Unfortunately, the story does not end there. This March, the General Board imposed a new administrative transfer. The Board moved about half of 440-M’s members and put them into DC 2 again—the very move the Convention, the GCC’s highest body, rejected.
The Board allowed the rest of 440-M to join 22-N.
When the GCC Board is willing to ignore a membership vote and a Convention vote, these administrative transfers put all small locals at risk of losing members.
Is it a coincidence that the General Board waited until after the IBT election to pull this trick? GCC national elections are next year. Now is the time to find out how candidates stand on local mergers.
March 23, 2007: Press operators at the Los Angeles Times won a victory this week when the regional National Labor Relations Board in Los Angeles rejected the newspaper’s objections about the workers’ successful election to join the Teamsters.
Teamster members of GCC Local 4-N at the San Francisco Chronicle have spent the last few years fighting for a decent contract that upholds industry standards for union pressmen. Despite their united struggle, they were forced to accept concessions by lack of support from the top Teamster leadership.
In an Oct. 13 letter, GCC President (and IBT Vice President-elect) George Tedeschi ordered Local 4-N’s leadership to hold a meeting for Chronicle workers to vote on whether to ratify a concessionary agreement that he had bargained. At that meeting, the contract was narrowly defeated.
When Tedeschi learned that members had rejected his deal, he ordered the local to conduct another vote, this time set in the workplace, on the company’s turf. The contract then passed by a wide margin. The deal includes job cuts, two-tier vacation accrual, mandatory overtime, loss of past practice, and outsourcing of the entire operation in three years.
A Long Struggle
All along, the Chronicle workers have had to fight not only the company, but union leaders who seem to have forgotten the meaning of solidarity. First the officers of Teamster mailers and drivers broke ranks with the bargaining coalition to settle agreements that included a no strike clause. When it looked like the Machinists would go on strike and that the members of 4-N would honor the line, Hoffa’s special assistant Rome Aloise sent a letter to the drivers reminding them that he would order them to cross it. Aloise and Tedeschi publicly undercut Local 4-N, and echoed the company’s claims of poverty even though the company never opened their books to the union.
Strategy Needed from IBT
The members of Local 4-N had a hard fight on their hands when they decided to stand up to one of the most powerful companies in the newspaper industry. They deserved the support of top leaders, not ridicule and obstruction.
The ramifications of this contract are likely to ripple throughout the industry if the Teamster leadership fails to develop a strategy to cut concessions off at the pass. Any successful strategy needs two key elements: grassroots solidarity on the ground, and coordination at the top.
“Seventeen years ago the Minneapolis Star-Tribune tried to play one union against another by getting the drivers to sign a no-strike clause. TDU activists educated us about the dangers of that, and we voted it down,” says Local 638 driver and bargaining committee member Rick Sather. “But now the paper’s been bought by a larger corporation and we could use some help from the International to keep our solidarity strong and devise strategies to fight their proposals.”
Without a strategy to win and a leadership willing to stand up to the newspapers, Teamsters will have a hard time fighting concessions. The industry is changing rapidly, but it doesn’t have to all be on management’s terms. The GCC and the IBT need to take advantage of a tradition of shop floor activity and the strategic importance of Teamsters in the newspaper trades to leverage our power.
In late 2003, Rome Aloise, secretary-treasurer of Local 853 and special assistant to James Hoffa, broke ranks with a bargaining coalition of unions to settle short with the newspaper. Aloise agreed to a seven-year agreement containing concessions, including the loss of Teamster jurisdiction for drivers outside city limits.
According to Anthony Price, president of Local 4-N, the worst thing Aloise did was to give up the right to strike: he agreed to a clause that requires Teamster drivers to cross picket lines of any union that doesn’t cave in to similar job-killing concessions.
“Since Aloise agreed to send members across picket lines, most of the other unions at the Chronicle have felt compelled to accept concessions,” says Price. “Now it’s only us and one other union still fighting to preserve industry standards.”
Employer Goes for Blood, Where Is Union Solidarity?
Enter Frank Vega, the notorious hatchet man who provoked and prolonged the Detroit Newspaper Strike in the late 1990s. Vega took over operations at the Chronicle in 2005 and has shown that he is not interested in bargaining, he is only interested in surrender.
Local 4-N has been fighting to keep bargaining alive since their contract expired in July, but the Chronicle has now declared impasse. 4-N members must vote on whether to accept their employer’s “last, best, and final” offer that would permit outsourcing, cut staffing to unsafe levels, and greatly weaken overtime standards by paying straight time for the first nine hours of a shift.
But it’s unclear what the options would be if the members reject the offer.
George Tedeschi, president of the Teamsters Graphic Communications Conference, has refused to grant strike sanction and has not even bothered to reply to two letters the local sent him requesting assistance. Aloise has bragged that he can use his status as general assistant to President Hoffa to make sure that the 4-N will never be allowed to put up a picket line. In a conference call with 4-N leaders, Aloise said that management had purchased bulletproof vests for Local 853 members just in case there was a strike.
“What an organizing tool,” said 43-year 4-N member Bruce Carlton. “You can join the Teamsters and you get a bulletproof vest to go through picket lines!”
In spite of the obstacles, 4-N members continue to resist the employer demands. In early August they held a large rally in front of the Chronicle building. Because the North American Newspaper Trades Conference was in town, fellow newspaper workers from across the continent turned out in support. But Tedeschi? He skipped the rally and instead used the opportunity to meet with Vega without any 4-N representatives present.
Aloise was a no-show and shortly thereafter Aloise issued a letter reminding Chronicle drivers that their jobs were on the line if they were to show “blind support” for a 4-N picket line. “I will make my feelings known informing you as to whether or not the situation deserves your support,” he told them.
Big Implications in Newspaper Trades
Jim Holtyn, a retired officer from Local 23-N at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, says the employers are pushing hard all across the country to eliminate jobs. “In the past, many newspaper unions bargained a lifetime job guarantee at the company. But now that promise is being completely forgotten. The companies say ‘It’s nice that you pushed 1,500 pound rolls and lifted lead plates for all those years, but we don’t need you any more.’”
Without coordinated strategies, there is nothing to stop Vega and other union busters from continuing their strategy of divide and conquer. As long as the International allows Aloise and others to settle out from under other Teamsters, the union busters will gain ground.
But Holtyn believes the merger of his union into the Teamsters presents an opportunity to wage a powerful fight against the newspaper giants. He says the GCC model of an informed and militant membership can be an example of how to fight on the shop floor; and he believes that the International Teamsters have the resources and ability to mount nationwide corporate campaigns that the newspaper trades have rarely seen. What is needed is the will to make it happen.
January 30, 2005: The Graphic Communications International Union’s (GCIU) 60,000 US members voted by a narrow margin to merge into the Teamsters. Most Canadian locals, which voted separately, have rejected the proposal. One local inToronto and all three locals in Quebec have decided to affiliate with the IBT.
TDU welcomes our new brothers and sisters across North America into the Teamsters. GCIU will now be an autonomous printing trades conference within our union.
Those in favor of the merger have expressed hope that the Teamsters will help them in their fight against the giant antiunion corporation Quebecor World, and will provide political clout. Support came especially from GCIU members who work alongside Teamsters at newspapers. In addition, one large California district council voted heavily for the merger. In the other regions of the country, the vote was fairly evenly split. Overall, 35,000 members voted, with 52% voting yes.
Throughout the process many leaders at all levels of the GCIU voiced strong opposition to the merger, citing concerns about the Teamsters’ ability to protect pensions or help the GCIU stabilize its membership. The Committee to Save GCIU, a union-wide group of members and leaders, also noted that the Teamster structure is more centralized and “top-down” than what they have now in the GCIU.The GCIU carries a proud tradition of standing up to employers. Moreover, the members traditionally have a distaste for closed-door meetings and backroom deals. We invite all GCIU members to meet like-minded Teamsters by joining TDU to work for democracy and the very highest trade union principles within the IBT.