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Detroit Newspaper Walkout Ends; Rehiring Battle Begins

February 20, 1997|From Associated Press

Detroit's two main daily newspapers accepted a back-to-work offer from their striking employees Wednesday, ending a bitter 19-month walkout that divided one of America's staunchest union towns.

But the dispute appeared far from over. Union leaders charged that the newspapers' plan to rehire employees as openings become available amounts to a rejection of their back-to-work offer.

They said they would ask the National Labor Relations Board to seek an injunction forcing the reinstatement of all workers who want to return to the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.

Derey said strike activities, including picketing, will continue, but he said signs will be changed to say the workers are locked out rather than on strike.

About 2,500 employees--including pressmen, truck drivers, reporters and editors--went on strike in July 1995 over issues including wages, work rules, union jurisdiction, job cuts and health-care costs. About 430 have returned to work.

During the strike--one of the longest walkouts in the industry's history and marked by vandalism, violence and advertiser and subscriber boycotts--the newspapers continued to publish by hiring about 1,200 replacement workers and using managers and strikers who crossed the picket lines.

The unions last week began offering to return to work unconditionally. On Wednesday, the newspapers said they had accepted the offer.

At the same time, however, the newspapers said available jobs will be offered on a seniority basis and that a list will be set up to fill other openings as they occur.

"We are as interested as anyone in getting as many people back to work as we can," Ellwood said. "They characterize this as a lockout, which is absolutely ridiculous."

William Schaub, NLRB regional director, has said he would view it as improper if the newspapers were to take back only some workers.

The Free Press is owned by Miami-based Knight-Ridder Inc., the News by Arlington, Va.-based Gannett Co. Detroit Newspapers runs the papers' business and production operations under a joint operating agreement.

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