Strike ruling goes against Times

  • BRYAN CORLISS / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, December 20, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News


Herald Writer

SEATTLE — The Seattle Times likely violated the National Labor Relations Act during the 30-day strike by the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild.

The National Labor Relations Board’s regional director in Seattle issued that report Wednesday, citing seven violations of the federal labor law, including threats of potential firings because of the strike or of job losses due to post-strike downsizing.

The report was issued a day after Times President H. Mason Sizemore announced the paper would permanently replace some striking advertising and circulation workers, and was preparing to recruit new newsroom employees.

And it came hours after the announcement that the federal mediator who helped settle the Boeing Co. engineers’ strike in March was going to intervene in the talks between the Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Guild

The Labor Relations Board finding is not a final determination that the violations occurred and doesn’t mean the strike is an "unfair labor practice strike," meaning that strikers by law must get their jobs back once a contract is reached. There are no such legal guarantees in a strike solely over financial issues.

The office did determine, however, that "there is reasonable cause to find a violation has occurred." The board will issue a complaint against the company, and the issues will be decided by an administrative law judge.

If the judge rules that The Times’ actions prompted or prolonged the strike, then the company cannot permanently replace the strikers.

Among the alleged violations, the NLRB investigators charge that The Times:

  • Threatened striking employees with being fired or disciplined as a result of the strike, or laid off during any potential downsizing that may follow it.

  • Unlawfully told striking employees they must return to work by a deadline or risk losing their jobs.

  • Told employees that if they crossed picket lines immediately they would have more seniority at the end of the strike and a better chance to retain their jobs in the event of a post-strike downsizing.

    "Any future layoffs would have to be a subject of bargaining with the union," the NLRB report said.

    A Times spokeswoman said no violations took place. "We’re confident we didn’t commit an unfair labor practice," Kerry Coughlin said.

    Times managers told workers about their options, she said. That "shouldn’t constitute an unfair labor practice."

    Guild officers hailed the ruling.

    The papers have been "engaging in a totally irresponsible ploy to coerce striking workers instead of bargaining in good faith," said Morton Bahr, the president of the Communications Workers of America, the Newspaper Guild’s parent union.

    The Guild and management also seemed at odds over the arrival of a new federal mediator to oversee the talks.

    C. Richard Barnes, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, was headed to Seattle to intervene in the strike. Barnes helped settle the 40-day strike by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace earlier this year.

    His involvement is a welcome development, said Art Thiel, a striking P-I columnist and Guild spokesman.

    "This means business," he said. "He’s a heavyweight."

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