Teamsters Battle to Save Jobs, Newspaper

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 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.

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