By BRYAN CORLISS
SEATTLE — A strike against Seattle’s two daily newspapers appeared certain after contract talks broke down late Monday.
The Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, which represents newsroom, circulation and advertising employees, planned to take an advisory vote of members before a midnight strike deadline.
Voters were to determine whether the papers’ final contract offer was good enough to be referred to a vote of all members, union spokesman Art Thiel said.
The latest offer from management of The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer is only a minor improvement from the one the union rejected six months ago, and a walkout seemed a foregone conclusion, Thiel said before the meeting.
"It doesn’t appear we’re going to avoid the strike," he said. "But I suppose lightning could strike."
The Associated Press reported the papers had reached an agreement with one of their Teamsters locals, which had rejected an earlier contract Friday. It was not immediately known when the 460 members of the union would vote on whether to accept the deal.
Teamsters Local 763 represents 170 mailers and 290 sales and distribution workers who have been without contracts since June.
The papers’ other Teamsters union, Local 174, was expected to honor the picket lines. That local represents drivers of delivery trucks. Composing room members of the Communications Workers of America, the Guild’s parent union, also were expected to strike if the Guild did.
Pickets were set to go up shortly after midnight, with the Times’ North Creek printing plant in Bothell being one of the major targets. Picketing is also planned at the papers’ offices and warehouses in Everett and Lynnwood.
Times and P-I managers could not be reached by phone Monday evening. However, AP reported that Times President Mason Sizemore had this to say: "There are no winners in a strike. The newspaper suffers, the reader suffers and the employees suffer."
Officials at both papers said they’ll continue to publish and deliver papers during the strike, using replacement workers and managers.
"We will be prepared to publish tonight, and we will publish tonight," P-I Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby told AP Monday. "We will do whatever we need to do ahead of time to make sure we are able to do that. We are trying to get some things done earlier in the day."’
The papers will be available free at retail outlets and news stands, at least temporarily, according to a letter to subscribers.
However, home delivery will likely be disrupted during the first few days of the strike. Some routes will not be serviced, and there probably won’t be any customer service people available to take calls for several days, the letter said.
The letter from Times Publisher Frank Blethen told subscribers that management had negotiated in good faith and made a fair contract offer to the union — a contention Thiel scoffed at.
Management’s final offer was almost identical to what it started with six months ago, he said, adding, "We told them that wasn’t going to cut it six months ago."
Management offered a total of $3.30 an hour in raises over six years, with annual increases starting at 75 cents and tapering down to 40 cents in the final year.
The Guild’s final request was a three-year contract with raises totaling $3.25 an hour.
The two sides also couldn’t agree on whether to eliminate the Times’ two-tier wage structure, which pays suburban reporters less than those in the main office.
Striking reporters and editors plan to publish their own paper during the walkout. Its online edition was to be available this morning at www.unionrecord.comc, Thiel said.
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