Wed Nov 9 12:58:00 PST 1994

Newspaper talks continue with new vigor

S.F. Mayor confident that progress on strike has been made

By Eric Brazil
Of the Free Press staff

SAN FRANCISCO -- Talks between labor unions and management appeared to intensify early Wednesday as the San Francisco newspaper strike entered its 10th day.

Mayor Frank Jordan cancelled a planned 19-day trade mission to Manila and Vietnam to continue his mediating role in the negotiations underway at his City Hall office. In a news conference Wednesday, Jordan offered his most hopeful assessment since he convened both sides in his office last Friday.

"My sense now is that the next few hours, the next few days, maybe into next week, will bring us to an amicable solution," he told reporters.

The mayor's remarks came just hours after the Chronicle, the Examiner and the San Francisco Newspaper Agency rescinded the Wednesday deadline they had set for their 2,600 employees to return to work before starting to hire permanent replacements. Jordan's Asia trip was to have begun Wednesday. But hoping to achieve a settlement in the city's first newspaper strike since 1968, the mayor cleared his agenda to bring the two sides together in a forum of maximum public exposure.

New proposals on the critical issue of restructuring the circulation system for the Chronicle and Examiner were under discussion Wednesday.

The effects of the strike remained evident in both newspapers. Despite one of the most contentious elections in years, the Chronicle Wednesday morning had no final election results from California.

The staff of the San Francisco Free Press, which is being published by the striking workers, printed a one-sheet, two-sided special "Election Newsletter" that carried summaries of key elections and vote counts as of 3:15 a.m. PST. Thirty thousand copies were printed and distributed in downtown San Francisco before dawn. In addition, the striking workers published complete election results and analyses on their on-line daily edition.

Public Defender Jeff Brown expressed the community's impatience with the strike. "The whole scene has gone dark," he said. "Here's where they (politicians) can pull hijinks. The scrutiny is off. Who knows what we'll see when the lights go on?"

Fewer than a dozen members of the eight unions which comprise the Conference of Newspaper Unions have returned to work. The Chronicle and Examiner are being produced by non-union replacement workers from as far away as Worcester, Mass., and Beaumont, Tex., plus non-union managers.

Several hundred workers massed at the Chronicle-Examiner plant at Fifth and Mission streets on Wednesday, despite rain and high wind, in a day-long rally aimed at providing visual and audible evidence of strike solidarity. Non-union reporters, editors and others producing the paper, in chauffered vans, were escorted by police and the Agency's private security guards through the jeering crowd.

Although the San Francisco Newspaper Agency insists that production from its Army Street printing plant has risen to more than 400,000 copies daily, distribution remains spotty.

Newsracks in San Fransicso remain empty, and home delivery in the city is almost non-existent. Suburban readers are receiving their copies of the bob-tailed papers, replete with unfamiliar bylines and a preponderance of wire service stories.

But on Tuesday, even the normally impassive Associated Press was drawn into the fray. Ten of 12 Bay Area AP writers began withholding their bylines from copy to protest what they perceive as unfair editing of wire service stories by the newspapers.

"We are being asked to do more and more for the Examiner and the Chronicle," said reporter Richard Cole. "We are being used as strikebreakers. We believe we should be neutral."

Said reporter Karyn Hunt: "We don't want to be electronic scabs." Meanwhile, sporadic strike violence continued. Two private security guards employed by the San Francisco Newspaper Agency were attacked by four masked men early Tuesday morning at a Hayward distribution building. One guard was was stabbed in the groin and was briefly hospitalized. The other was beaten and sprayed with mace. No suspects have been arrested.

The violence was denounced as counterproductive to negotiations by labor, management and by Mayor Jordan.

Newspaper Agency president James Hale said he was "appalled" by the violence. Conference of Newspaper Unions chairman Doug Cuthbertson said the unions "absolutely disavow" any attempt to inject violence into the strike.

On Thursday at noon, a memorial service will be held at the Elks Lodge in Palo Alto for Kent Wilson, 45, a veteran Newspaper Agency driver with Teamsters Local 921, who was electrocuted Sunday morning during an attempt to cut off power to a Mountain View distribution plant. Police say that Wilson evidently tried to pull out wires in a transformer box and grasped a hot wire while standing on wet ground.

Even as negotiations continue under a virtual cone of silence at City Hall, both sides are waging their campaigns with heightened vigor.

As promised, the Chronicle and Examiner are publishing, and the presses continue to roll at the Agency's Army Street printing plant in an atmosphere of near-military security.

The strike has forced the Agency into some contortions to move papers and newsprint between locations, and it has made detectives of some strikers. For example, unions discovered late Tuesday night that the Agency has been taking pre-printed inserts to CalCargo, a freight forwarder in Hayward. Because Agency workers are inside the plant, Teamsters Local 921 began picketing the facility.

The unions have stepped up their efforts to thwart the delivery of newspapers while encouraging advertisers to withdraw their business for the duration of the strike and readers to cancel their subscriptions. Each side minimized the effectiveness of the other's efforts, but it was clear that the stress of the strike is grinding on both sides in the talks on a contract to replace the one which expired Nov. 1, 1993.

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