Late Tuesday afternoon, about 135 people gathered outside the entrance of the Star Tribune's downtown headquarters.
They carried posters proclaiming "Show Us the Green in 2013" and "Re$tore Our Pay"; they wore green ribbons next to stickers emblazoned with a sneezing green face, marked "PTO makes us sick: Give us back our sick days." The most common sign said only "2,000," with each zero doing double-duty as a sad emoticon -- a reference to the number of days the 250 members of the Star Tribune Newspaper Guild have gone without a raise.
The Guild members' contracts expired at the end of January, and since then, negotiators have gone back and forth with company management 14 times, trying to work out a new agreement. "So far, there's been nothing we would accept," said Jackie Crosby, a Star Tribune reporter and the Guild vice chair.
When the company was in bankruptcy, in 2009, Guild members took pay cuts of 8 to 15 percent, among other concessions to keep the Strib above water. Now that the company is back on firmer financial footing, the Guild is seeking raises for its members for the first time in nearly six years, as well as a more competitive 401(k) plan, restored bereavement leave and sick days, and a scaling back of the "two tier" system, under which certain workers -- such as suburban and niche product reporters -- receive a smaller salary and fewer benefits than their newsroom peers.
As Tuesday's rally started, the reporters among the crowd joked about being on the other side of the news. "We only know how to receive press events, not do them," laughed Crosby, as she stepped up to the megaphone to introduce Janet Moore, a reporter and the Guild co-chair, as the first speaker.
"We have lifted each other up even though management clearly believes that great journalism can be done on the cheap," Moore told the crowd. "The company likes to compare us to others in our troubled industry. Well, we're not like the others, and thankfully so. We are survivors and we now work for a financially stable business."
After Moore, speakers from the Teamsters 120 union, Minnesota AFL-CIO, AFSCME, and SEIU Local 26 addressed the workers. So did one of the part-time reporters in the bottom tier of the two-tier system, who explained that sometimes, knowing she makes "less than two-thirds" the amount her colleagues do is "particularly difficult to stomach [when] our bylines appear side-by-side."
After about 15 minutes, the rally wrapped up and the crowd trickled back into the building. Guild negotiators return to the table for a 15th round on Thursday, and those involved hope that the rally will show management the extent of the support for the Guild among workers.
"We want the company to know that we back the negotiators," explained Crosby. "These aren't just people who are on the fringes of the newsroom. They really are representing our will."
August 31, 2010: The prospective new owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News saw continued pushback from some of the newspapers’ unions Monday as a second group of employees voted Monday against a new labor contract.
The newspapers’ pressmen, represented by a Teamsters local, voted 74-9 to reject the offer, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Tuesday. The thumbs-down on that proposal follows Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News machinists’ rejection on Sunday of a separate contract offer.
Click here to read more at Editor & Publisher.
July 30, 2010: In 1976, my life and Daniel Schorr's intersected. When he died last week at age 93, I lost a friend, the public lost a trusted news analyst at National Public Radio, and the First Amendment lost one of its bravest defenders.
I was a young reporter in 1976 at the Minneapolis Star; Schorr was a famous journalist who worked for CBS TV. He'd scored a number of scoops during the Watergate era, winning three Emmy awards, and had earned a place on President Richard Nixon's "enemies list" for his relentless coverage.
Click here to read more at the Star Tribune.
From TDU.org: Randy Furst is a newspaper reporter, Teamster spouse, and long-time leader of the Minnesota TDU Chapter.
February 22, 2010: Reeling from the recession and general hard times in the media world, the Teamsters unit representing newspaper delivery truck drivers and pressmen in the Chicago area has been thrust into a trusteeship by James P. Hoffa.
He's head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and he's been responsible for four such takeovers -- which involve booting the elected leaders, installing a new administrator and trying to rectify whatever problems are said to exist -- in the Chicago area in recent years.
Click here to read more at Chicago Union News.
June 29, 2009: If you read the San Francisco Chronicle, you might be interested to know that by the end of this month 200 union workers will be out of a job.
These are the men and women of the GCC/IBT Local 4-N District Council 2. As if job cuts weren't bad enough, this story has an even more disturbing element as the Chronicle is reportedly outsourcing those 200 union jobs to a non-union facility in Fremont.
Click here to hear Valerie Grant’s interview with Bruce Carlton, who has worked over 44 years as a pressman for the Chronicle.
June 25, 2009: It's been superseded by events, but since the settling of the drivers' contract dispute was the probable trigger for last night's announcement of the Strib's reorganization plan, here are a few details you didn't read in the daily:
Click here to read more at MinnPost.com.
June 05, 2009: Star Tribune management and strike-ready drivers continue to square off, both at the negotiating table and in bankruptcy court. Barring a agreement, a Strib brief defending its request to abrogate the drivers' contract is due Friday, with a court hearing next Tuesday.
Click here to read more at MinnPost.com.
May 22, 2009: A new round of cuts at the San Francisco Chronicle is hitting Teamsters Local 853.
That’s the home local of Rome Aloise, one of Hoffa’s key point men and our newest International Vice President.
Under the deal, one hundred Local 853 drivers will lose their jobs. But those who stay won’t take a pay cut. And the Chronicle will make a one-time payment of $800,000 to their benefit fund.
The new deal will extend their current contract from 2010 until Dec. 31, 2015.
On June 1, the Chronicle will shift printing to a new nonunion facility. All of the pressmen in GCC Local 4-N will lose their jobs, as will all of the mailers in Local 853.
Over a hundred pressmen have applied for jobs at the new facility. Not one has been hired. All our union can say is that they’re monitoring the situation.
Why did Aloise get a better deal for the drivers? Maybe it’s because he’s always been willing to play ball when the employers wanted to pit members against members.
Back in 2005, before other unions could sign a contract, Aloise inked a deal that would require Local 853 members to cross a picket line if one of the other newspaper unions went on strike.
Teamster pressmen lost the successors and assigns language that could have helped us keep our jobs. And the Newspaper Guild members got one of their worst contracts ever (before this year).
Now over 200 union pressmen and over 100 mailers will be on unemployment. It’s time for our union officials to wake up and get into action. This is a race to the bottom.
By Bruce Carlton, Local 4-N, Retired
May 19, 2009: Since its Jan. 15 bankruptcy filing, the Star Tribune has forced five unions to fork over $9 million in annual concessions, plus pension freezes, with nary a labor stoppage. But Sunday's move to terminate drivers' pension contributions could bring the struggling company's first strike.
Though officials of Local 638 would not comment, recently retired driver Rick Sather says he's heard serious talk from half a dozen current drivers.
"They’re telling me what the business agent is saying to them: 'If the company wants to leave the pension plan, we just have to strike," Sather says.
Click here to read the full article at MinnPost.com.
April 21, 2009: The battle to save union contracts and conditions continues at the Minneapolis Star Tribune where the employer, which has filed for bankruptcy, is attempting to force union-busting demands on its unions.
Contracts with the Teamster drivers, custodians in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Newspaper Guild remain unsettled. Workers at the newspaper want to stand up and make a difference while their bargaining committees meet.
More than 100 rank-and-filers participated in a “Save the Strib” effort. “Strib” is the newspaper’s nickname, and members from the various unions distributed thousands of scorecards at Opening Day of the Minnesota Twins outside the Metrodome. The Newspaper Guild, which represents the reporters, initiated the effort to build community support. They were joined by Teamster mailers, Teamster pressmen, Teamster drivers and SEIU custodians.
Workers held signs, and gathered petitions from the public and paraded up and down in front of the Metrodome with a large “Save the Strib” banner. Minnesotans can go to www.savethestrib.com to sign a petition saying they consider the newspaper a valuable resource and want the paper to continue. Hundreds of handmade pressman paper hats were distributed to children by union activists.
Another sign that newspaper workers want to stand up for union solidarity is a petition being circulated by custodians throughout the newspaper.
Hundreds of workers from the various unions have signed the petition, which supports the SEIU’s demand to restore a clause in the contract that would allow the custodians to honor the picket lines of the other unions at the newspaper. All the other unions retain that basic union language.
Meanwhile the Teamster drivers face a critical issue that could cost a large number of drivers a major part of their pensions as the company threatens to pull out of the Central States Pension plan. All union members need to support Local 638 in retaining their pensions. The SEIU could face a similar pension battle.
It is not known where negotiations stand with the Newspaper Guild, the largest union at the paper, but it was disclosed some weeks ago that the company’s union-busting demands include giving up the seniority clause, the use of unlimited material from freelance writers, and elimination of overtime pay for editors. The company also demanded to eliminate severance packages so that workers would no longer get at least some minimum financial aid if they are laid off.
There are signs throughout the newsroom that say, “We support strong unions” and “Without seniority, there is no union.”
Teamster Pressmen and Mailers Take Concessions
The Pressmen and the Mailers have been backed into a corner and agreed to contracts with major concessions.
One concession forced on the pressmen backfired last week. When the deal took effect on April 10, management was allowed to cut jobs, and mandated four pressmen on each of three newspaper presses, when in the past it was six or seven pressmen.
It was too few. In a business that depends on timely press runs, the resulting delay meant deadlines got missed for the papers to get to the trucks. Missed deadlines cost money, foul up home delivery and missed mailing of newspapers to out-state addresses.
If left intact, the job cuts (called “publisher’s manning”) will jeopardize the quality of the color and print on the more than 300,000 Star Tribune newspapers distributed daily, and more than 500,000 on Sunday.
The company, acknowledging the experiment was a failure, told some pressmen from now on, there will be at least five pressmen per press.
Fewer pressmen will also create dangerous working conditions. It means that some pressmen may be racing up and down stairs in the press room to monitor the presses they are responsible for.
The struggle continues to save the Strib for the community and save good jobs against corporate greed.