Newspapers, union meet today

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Ralph Erickson hopes to return to work as a district adviser in The Seattle Times circulation department before the holidays.

But he’s not counting on it.

Still, he says today’s bargaining session between the Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild could be a step toward ending a 2 1/2-week-old strike against the city’s two daily newspapers.

The meeting will be the first since the strike began Nov. 21. The closed session will be in the Seattle office of federal mediator Jeff Clark.

"I’m not getting my hopes up too much," Erickson said Thursday while picketing outside the Times’ Seattle offices. "Hopefully, it will work if they’re there to bargain."

Guild spokesman Art Thiel said the union hasn’t backed off on its demands, but "every single point is negotiable."

The strike has centered on pay. The Guild represents 1,000 editorial, advertising and circulation employees at the Times and P-I. The papers have separate newsrooms but publish together in a joint-operating agreement. They bargain together with the Guild, although contracts for each are slightly different.

The last offer from the newspapers included an hourly raise of $3.30 over six years for top-scale reporters. The union sought a three-year contract with $3.25 in raises and other improvements.

Times President Mason Sizemore said the economics of the offer will not change, but the papers were willing to negotiate other issues. He would not say what those issues are.

"We’re just happy to be back at the table," said Thiel, a striking P-I sports columnist. "There are no preconditions. We’re just really eager, and hope the companies engage in good-faith bargaining. This has gone on long enough that we want the damage to the community and the papers to end."

P-I editor and publisher Roger Oglesby hopes the meeting will be productive.

"We are still eager to get people back to work," he said. "I am encouraged by the fact that the Guild says that everything is negotiable and that it seems to have changed its previous bargaining position. It’s an opportunity for the Guild membership to make their voice heard."

John Ryan had been a P-I copy editor only eight months when the strike began. Now he is working on the Web site for the Seattle Union Record, the newspaper being published by the Guild during the strike.

"I’m pretty hopeful," Ryan said. "I look forward to this ending, and look forward to going back to the P-I one day.

"I think there was some surprise that we’re going to go back (to the table) Friday. Some are optimistic and some are more guarded waiting to see how it all plays out," he said.

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