Newspaper Teamsters Told 'Vote Till You Get it Right'

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.

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