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MEDIA : Guild Gives Its Negotiators Strike Authorization at U-T

November 06, 1989|KEVIN BRASS

For the first time in its two-year contract struggle with the Union-Tribune Publishing Co., the local chapter of the Newspaper Guild is talking about a strike.

The general membership of the Guild, which represents more than 1,000 newsroom, circulation and advertising employees at the paper, recently voted to give its bargaining committee the power to call for a strike. If the committee votes to strike, the general membership and the international office of the Guild would still have to approve the decision.

At a membership meeting scheduled for Wednesday, the formation of committees to make strike preparations, such as finding a strike headquarters office and itemizing the Guild's resources, is high on the agenda.

"We have to be able to organize our people," said Guild President Ed Jahn. "People are losing patience. We have to marshal our forces as best as possible and see what we have, and then bargain accordingly."

Even if the Guild is moving into a strike posture simply as a bargaining ploy, it is sure to raise tension at the plant. Beginning Thursday, several writers will begin a voluntary, indefinite byline strike, removing their names from their stories.

If nothing else, Guild officials have decided to find out exactly what kind of support they have in the newsroom.

"We're not going to order anybody" to participate, Jahn said. "We're not going hold anybody to it or alienate anybody. But it's coming down to whether you're for us or against us."

There had been some indications that the Guild and the company were making progress in their negotiations. But that is clearly not the case.

Jahn accuses the company of stalling, of trying to prolong the process and wear down the Guild.

"That was their plan, to get us hopeful and kick the chair out from under us," Jahn said.

The unions representing pressroom employees and plate-makers at the U-T recently agreed to a contract, which included anti-union concessions such as a no-strike clause--concessions the Guild is unwilling to make. Seeing its sister unions settle with the U-T certainly was not good news to the Newspaper Guild.

Two weeks ago the Guild filed suit in federal court to compel the company to enter arbitration over the long-standing issue of the automatic deduction of union dues from paychecks. The company canceled the automatic deductions after the Guild's contract expired in July, 1988.

"Morale is at rock bottom," Jahn said. "It's a sad experience here."

Meanwhile, negotiation sessions are still being scheduled for the near future.

"We intend to pursue negotiations and find a fair settlement," said Herbert Klein, editor in chief of Copley Newspapers, the U-T's parent organization. "We were encouraged by the settlement with the press and plate-makers."

More than a year ago, U-T editors, under direction of management, began preparing for a possible strike, producing mock issues in weekend sessions.

Jahn said the Guild has no timetable for a possible strike.

"The better prepared we are to strike the less chance we have to strike," Jahn said. "We want to push the company close enough to the edge of the cliff that they can look over the edge."

Taking the analogy a step further, Jahn noted that talk of a strike is ominous for both sides. "We have to remember that the company is handcuffed to the employees," he said.

You can say a lot of things about Mayor Maureen O'Connor, but don't call her a gum chewer. After Tribune reporter Robert Hawkins referred to her as "gum-chewing Mayor O'Connor" in a story about the opening of the Tbilisi State Marionette Theatre, reportedly the irate mayor personally called the Tribune to demand a retraction.

After much give and take between Tribune editors and the mayor's staff, the Tribune printed a "clarification" noting that, according to mayor spokesman Paul Downey, O'Connor was "chewing a breath mint," not gum.

The mayor was worried about the "connotation that she was somehow being disrespectful to the performers or to the audience," Downey said later.

Channel 8 weatherman/comedian Larry Mendte can now be seen on KNSD-TV (Channel 39). Mendte has been hired by the syndicated tabloid show "Hard Copy" to do his "How Come?" segments, the weekly feature he does during the Channel 8 news. But Channel 39, not Channel 8, carries "Hard Copy" in San Diego, running it during the weekend. Channel 39 program director Penny Martin was surprised to hear "Hard Copy" had hired Mendte, but said she "didn't see any problem with it." . . .

As expected, Michael Tuck announced that he's heading to KCBS-TV (Channel 2) in Los Angeles at the end of his current contract, but he's not necessarily going to replace Jim Lampley, who announced his engagement to fellow anchor Bree Walker last week. Channel 2 news director Michael Singer denounced reports that Lampley is leaving as "ridiculous."

"We have room for lots of good anchors," Singer said.

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