S.F. Newspaper Teamsters Fight to Hold The Line Against Hearst

October 18, 2006. The Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle has set its sights on its union workforce, but members of Teamsters GCC Local 4-N are fighting to preserve the good wages and benefits in their contract. These press and prepress workers have been hampered in their struggle by Teamster International officials who have signed substandard agreements and obstructed 4-N’s efforts to prepare for a strike, if necessary.

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.

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