San Francisco Free Press - Strike - November 4, 1994

Newspaper strike talks to resume

Mayor to host Friday morning negotiations

By Eric Brazil and Kathleen Sullivan
Special to The Free Press

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 4, 1994 --Mayor Frank Jordan, saying "this is the best time to settle" San Francisco's newspaper strike, won an agreement from both sides in the dispute to meet for negotiations again Friday.

Jordan met with union representatives and federal mediator Ruth Carpenter in his City Hall office Thursday and spoke with James Hale, president of the San Francisco Newspaper Agency.

Mayor Jordan said both sides agreed to resume negotiations at his office at 7 a.m. Friday. He said he had canceled his schedule for the day to make himself available for the talks.

"You can't settle this without sitting down in good faith on both sides," he said. The mayor, noting he was maintaining a neutral stance on the dispute between newspaper management and eight unions representing 2,600 workers who write, edit, produce and distribute the papers, said he would have preferred to get talks going earlier. But he said both sides said they were still exhausted from a 36-hour negotiation session that ended with the walkout at 10 p.m. Tuesday.

As the mayor sought to find a way to end the strike, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown appeared on the picket lines outside the Chronicle and Examiner offices at Fifth and Mission streets.

"I'm solid with the workers, you bet," Brown said after the Thursday morning visit.

Meanwhile, Bay Area newsracks remained empty of San Francisco's two largest daily newspapers as workers picketed sites in four counties.

Both sides were well-prepared for the strike, and both proclaimed their efforts a success.

San Francisco Newspaper Agency President James Hale, spokesperson for the Chronicle and Examiner, claimed press runs of 350,000 for the Chronicle and 100,000 for the Examiner on Wednesday, figures that union officials called vastly inflated. Home delivery Wednesday and Thursday appeared to be spotty.

Doug Cuthberston, chairman of the Conference of Newspaper Unions, which represents the eight unions on strike, called the action "an overwhelming success. All our planning helped. This shouldn't last very long, based on their circulation and advertising losses."

Negotiations broke off Monday night after the unions rejected a management economic proposal and management failed to respond to a counteroffer.

Cuthbertson called the management proposal "incredibly insulting." It included no raise for the past year, during which employees have worked without a contract, and a 2.46 percent a year raise for the next four years. The unions proposed a 3.5 percent a year increase dating back to last Nov. 1 and continuing for the next four years.

At a Wednesday press conference, Hale said he was "mystified" by the strike and "surprised by the intensity of anger of those forced to walk the picket lines."

Hale said that management "never left" the negotiating table and invited the unions to resume talks. Cuthbertson said the unions are still waiting for a call from Hale.

A crucial issue for the unions in the current dispute is management's insistence on eliminating 150 to 200 Teamsters driver jobs. Hale said that "we have too many Teamsters. We've always had too many Teamsters. There's just not enough work for all those Teamsters."

He said that the newspapers would not lay off any Teamster drivers but would reduce their numbers through attrition. Cuthbertson said that Hale's declaration was news to him, because management had shied away from specifics on how it would go about cutting back on circulation drivers.

The unions say that management's hard line on the driver issue is a union-busting ploy in which nonunion, part-time drivers receiving no benefits would replace union workers and more than 400 youth carriers.

Security at the newspapers' facilities has been tight since the beginning of the strike. Officers from three San Francisco police districts -- Northern, Southern and Potrero -- have been working 12-hour shifts to help regulate picket lines and allow management employees and scab workers to enter and leave company property.

So far, police Commander Dennis Martel said, activity on the San Francisco picket lines "has been fairly uneventful."

There have been a handful of arrests on minor charges, such as trespassing and vandalism, and a few reports of damaged vehicles. Hale said that three replacement drivers were hospitalized by injuries suffered in scuffles with picketers. "These are minor incidents, which we regret, of course, but our people are upset," said Carl Hall, administrative officer of the Northern California Newspaper Guild.

The unions have been waging a campaign to persuade thier supporters to cancel subscriptions to both newspapers. Hale insisted that e had observed no effect from that campaign, but he conceded that the Newspaper Agency had no one available to handle circulation calls on Wednesday.

Unions have collected several thousand pledge cards from supporters who have agreed to cancel their subscriptions when asked to by the Conference of Newspaper Unions' executive committee. The unions have not yet played that card. Among the sympathetic agencies canceling subscriptions was the San Francisco Public Library.

While the Chronicle and Examiner are strikebound, the San Jose Mercury, Contra Costa Times, Marin Independent Journal and Santa Rosa Press Democrat have all increased their press runs to deliver more papers to readers. Television and radio news stations throughout the Bay Area beefed up news coverage to try to fill the gap left by the strike.

Copyright 1994 The Free Press

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