Strike deadlines near for Seattle papers


Associated Press

SEATTLE — The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Sunday made a contract offer to workers threatening to strike this week, but a spokesman for the union representing the workers said the sides are still far apart on several issues.

"We are likely to bargain up until the last minute," said P-I sports columnist Art Thiel, a spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild.

Meanwhile, the newspapers were also negotiating to avoid a walkout by another union, the Teamsters Local 763, which threatened that it could go on strike as soon as toMday.

The Times and P-I negotiate together under a joint operating agreement. Officials for the newspapers and for the Guild, which represents 1,000 circulation, advertising and editorial employees, were under a gag order requested by a federal mediator and could not discuss the specifics of the contract offer presented Sunday.

The Guild, which has been without a contract since July, was preparing a counter-offer, Thiel said. The union plans to strike at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday unless a contract is reached.

The union wants better raises than the companies have offered.

The strike threat was designed to coincide with the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period, a busy time for newspaper advertising.

The Times prepared for a possible Guild strike by announcing it would run advertising planned for its Thanksgiving edition on Tuesday.

"Given the fact that the guild has put us on notice that it is going to strike Tuesday morning, we’ve taken steps so that those advertisements can be delivered early," Times President Mason Sizemore told KIRO-TV on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Teamsters union was prepared to walk out, possibly today, if part of its membership did not reach a contract. About 170 distribution workers were seeking a contract; if they did not get one, as many as 500 union members were considering a strike.

Officials representing the distribution workers reached a compromise with newspaper management on Friday, but the workers rejected the compromise in a vote Friday night.

Teamsters officials could not be reached for comment Sunday. Newspaper officials said they did not know why the workers rejected the contract.

Guild workers said if they strike, they plan to block newspaper delivery trucks Thanksgiving Day. Thiel said he didn’t know how the workers would go about trying to stop trucks.

"I can’t say exactly what the strategy is, but it will be civil and within the law," he said.

The newspapers plan to continue publishing if there is a strike, Sizemore said. Hiring temporary workers is one possibility, he said.

The union has been asking for a three-year deal with annual hourly raises of $3.05, $1.55 and $1.55. The newspapers’ last announced offer was an undisclosed raise in the first year of a six-year contract, to be followed by five years of 45-cent-an-hour raises.

During the past 10 years, the cost of living has risen nearly 44 percent, while salaries have increased only 20 to 30 percent, union officials say.

Guild members are also upset that suburban reporters earn 15 percent less than their downtown counterparts.

If workers do strike, they will be paid $200 a week by the union’s parent, the Communications Workers of America, for the first 29 days. After that, they would receive $300 a week.

The Guild last went on strike at the P-I in 1936 and at The Times in 1953.

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