Newspaper strikers spend holiday on the picket line

By BERNARD MCGHEE

Associated Press

SEATTLE – It wasn’t what most people would consider an ideal way to spend Thanksgiving Day – standing outside in the cold and rain under the watchful eye of security guards.

But that’s exactly what members of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, who are on strike at The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, were doing Thursday.

Still, spirits stayed high among the workers in front of The Seattle Times building, even though for many of them a setup of doughnuts, pumpkin pie, cookies and coffee on a wet window ledge served as Thanksgiving breakfast.

“There’s a certain unifying thing in the misery,” said Guild administrative officer Larry Hatfield. “It’s very encouraging to me, as somebody trying to negotiate a contract for them, to have that support.”

But while some workers said it was disappointing to have to spend a rainy Thanksgiving morning away from their families, they all agreed their cause was more important to them than enjoying the luxury of a warm house and an even warmer Thanksgiving feast.

“I volunteered for this,” said Seattle Times columnist Shelby Gilje. “This is where I’m supposed to be.”

A moment later, she yelled out “Van alert!” to alert fellow workers to an approaching van, so they could stand in front of it and delay it for two minutes, the amount of time police allow them to block Seattle Times vehicles.

No new talks were scheduled in the walkout against the papers, which have independent newsrooms but share advertising, circulation and production staffs under a joint operating agreement. The Guild represents about 1,000 editorial, circulation and advertising employees at the papers. They went on strike Tuesday morning, demanding better pay and other concessions.

The newspapers’ final offer included an overall hourly wage raise of $3.30 over six years. The Guild’s last demand was a three-year contract with raises totaling $3.25. The minimum for a Guild reporter with six years’ experience has been $844.88 per week, or $21.12 per hour.

The Guild said Wednesday it had filed an unfair labor practice complaint against The Times, accusing the newspaper of threatening to fire striking employees unless they return to work. The Times said the complaint was baseless.

Dan Beaumont, a printer in The Times’ composing room, was also in good spirits as he stood on the sidewalk under an umbrella. Despite the weather, morale was very high among the workers, he said.

“We expected to have to be out here for a while,” Beaumont said. “We’ll stay out here as long as we have to.”

And even though some union members were going to have to spend part of their Thanksgiving Day on the picket lines, they were still going to celebrate it, Beaumont said.

“We’re going to go home. We’re going to have our Thanksgiving dinners,” he said. “We probably won’t enjoy them as much as we would, but we are going to have them.”

Meanwhile, Seattle P-I executive editor Ken Bunting said he simply wants his employees to come back to work.

“I’m just hoping to soon have all those talented journalists spending their time on the picket lines back in the newsroom,” Bunting said.

Most of those walking the line were non-newsroom employees who make up a majority of Guild membership and earn less than news staffers. The strike was called primarily on their behalf with the support of reporters and photographers, Hatfield said.

It’s the workers in departments such as classified and display advertising and circulation who are most affected by wages that don’t keep up with the cost of living, said Art Thiel, a sports columnist for the Seattle P-I and spokesman for the Guild.

Since the strike started, The Times and the P-I have been publishing thin, 24-page editions, but planned to publish 32-page editions toFday.

Today is also the day the Guild’s strike paper, the Seattle Union Record, plans to offer its first print edition. In the first days of the strike, it published on the Internet.

The Guild plans to distribute 30,000 copies in Seattle.

“It will certainly be available at every picket line,” said Mike Mahoney, a sports editor for the Union Record and a sports copy editor for the Seattle P-I.

The Guild plans to ask for a 45-cent donation for the paper, which will come out on weekdays, Mahoney said.

The first edition will have 20 pages, and while it won’t have any ads right away, it plans to have ads in it next week, Mahoney said.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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