Machinists enter newspaper fray

  • BRYAN CORLISS / Herald Writer
  • Monday, November 6, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

By BRYAN CORLISS

Herald Writer

The largest union representing Boeing workers is urging members to support unionized employees of the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer in their current contract impasse.

"Please send e-mail messages to the newspaper publishers and executives. …" urges the Machinists union’s Web page. "Let them know you are solidly behind your Times and P-I sisters and brothers."

Some 1,300 union workers at the two Seattle papers are working under expired contracts. The Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, which represents newsroom and advertising workers at both papers, has asked its national union to approve a strike if a new contract hasn’t been agreed to by Thanksgiving.

On Monday, the guild named committees to oversee strike preparations. It also announced it has rented a strike headquarters and is preparing to publish strike papers, both in print and online.

However, another round of contract talks is set for Thursday, and "We have every reason to believe that we’ll get to a resolution that works for everybody," said Roger Oglesby, the P-I’s publisher.

Pay has been the main obstacle during negotiations, which the two papers are handling jointly. They publish under a joint operating agreement that keeps news and editorial pages separate but combines all other operations.

The Machinists got involved in the Times/P-I dispute through the King County Labor Council, a cross-union organization to which both unions belong.

Through the council, Machinists are "actively involved in the struggles of working families and working people throughout the region, and that’s why they’re involved in this matter," said Tim Flynn, the spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The 39,000-member Machinists union is the largest in Washington.

As a practical matter, however, there’s not a lot the machinists can do, short of calling on members to cancel subscriptions, said Peter Kardas, the director of the Labor Education and Research Center at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

But having their backing is "the kind of thing that a union loves to have, support from the other unions," Kardas said.

Outside union support means having additional people to walk picket lines, write letters and distribute literature, to "make noise and make phone calls," Kardas said.

It can also help swing public opinion in favor of striking workers, and that can put pressure on management to settle, he added.

Indeed, the Times has a large number of subscribers who are Machinists and "the last thing we want to do is get sideways with those folks," said Times President Mason Sizemore.

However, both he and Oglesby said the real business will get done at the bargaining table.

"I don’t know that any outside opinion’s going to have a great deal of impact on that process," Oglesby said.

The newspaper guild has received a lot of support from organized labor, from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney individually and from the King County Labor Council as a whole, said Larry Hatfield, the guild’s administrative officer.

The labor council support includes that of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace — the union for engineers and technical workers at Boeing.

Their backing will be invaluable if and when the guild strikes against the papers, Hatfield said. "They’ll supply people and money and logistics and all sorts of support."

But he’s "hopeful," Hatfield said. "There’s no reason we can’t reach an agreement and avoid a strike."

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