Strike looking more likely at Seattle papers

Associated Press

SEATTLE – Negotiators for the union representing editorial, advertising and circulation workers at the city’s two daily newspapers said today that negotiations were not going well and that chances for a strike Tuesday were high.

Negotiations resumed this morning with a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

“The strike deadline is still midnight tonight,” said Larry Hatfield, administrative officer for the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild. “The chances are very high we will be out on strike tonight. We have a very enthusiastic membership that is totally united, and they believe they can win a strike.”

In related negotiations, Teamsters Local 763, which represents about 460 mail room, sales and distribution workers at the papers, was free to strike as early as 12:01 a.m. today, but no pickets appeared at news offices or the plant where both papers are printed in suburban Bothell.

Teamsters officials did not immediately return telephone calls today for comment.

The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer made a contract offer Sunday to the PNNG, a local of the Communications Workers of America that represents 1,000 circulation, advertising and editorial employees and has been without a contract since July 22.

“We’re a little more pessimistic,” Art Thiel, P-I sports columnist and Guild spokesman, said after leaving a morning negotiation session. “The session did not go as well as hoped last night and the papers have to understand we’re serious about this.

“I’ll say we still have got some hope and we’re still meeting. And we will meet up until the midnight deadline tonight. It looks like we could have a strike.”

Guild members labored over the weekend to assemble picket signs and lay plans for an alternative newspaper and online news service.

Chain link fences were erected around the Times’ buildings, and both morning dailies plan to continue publishing if there is a strike, possibly by hiring temporary workers, Times President H. Mason Sizemore said.

“The experience in this industry is that this kind of work stoppage can go sideways awfully fast,” Sizemore said.

Bruce Meachum, PNNG chief negotiator, said union leaders hoped to present the papers’ last offer to members for a vote but added that a walkout could begin before that happens.

The deadlines were timed for the advertising-rich Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period, and The Times decided to put some advertising inserts planned for Thanksgiving editions in the Monday papers instead.

The Times and P-I negotiate together under a joint operating agreement. At the request of a federal mediator, the unions and newspapers would not discuss the specifics of the last offer.

The Teamsters talks focused on contract demands by about 170 mailers. Local 763 also represents about 290 other sales and distribution workers who have been working without contracts since June.

Local 763 negotiators reached a tentative agreement with newspaper negotiators Friday, but the mailers rejected it in a vote Friday night. Newspaper officials said they did not know why the workers rejected the contract.

Guild workers said if they strike, they plan to rally and block newspaper delivery trucks Thanksgiving Day at the Bothell plant.

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

The Guild has been seeking a three-year agreement 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.

The P-I quoted a union officer who asked not to be identified as saying the Guild’s first-year demand had been reduced below $2 an hour.

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

Guild negotiators are also trying to eliminate a 15 percent discount in pay for suburban reporters at the Times.

If Guild members strike, they will be paid $200 a week by the union’s parent, the Communications Workers of America, for 29 days and $300 a week afterward.

The Guild last struck the P-I in 1936 and The Times in 1953.

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

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