Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

Post Labor Negotiations Move at Glacial Pace

Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

Post Labor Negotiations Move at Glacial Pace

Article excerpt

Like Congressional deliberations, labor negotiations are composed of long periods of tedium interrupted by brief sounds of argument, complete with raised voices and, occasionally, bad language.

A Disclosure Statement: As president of the Newspaper Guild's Local 47, I headed the St. Louis Post-Dispatch team in contract negotiations with Pulitzer, Inc. in 1991 and 1994-95. Progress has been slow with this year's negotiations, but I stopped in to visit a few weeks ago, in hopes of writing a story about the settlement. Not only was there to be no such story, but I discovered that most things have not changed a bit.

Committees representing the two sides still meet in the Holiday Inn on North 9th Street, just west of the Convention Center. Richard Lowe, an attorney with the Nashville-based firm of King and Ballow, and the Post's Mike Hammett lead the company team, with other department heads or executives also on hand. Executive Secretary Herb Goodrick and Tim O'Neil, a reporter who succeeded me as president of Local 47, do most of the speaking for the Guild, along with Jeff Gordon, a sports writer who is first vice-president, and Greg Cancelada, a business reporter. The 14-member committee also has other Post employees, with ad sales, circulation, accounting, creative services, custodial and electronic media all represented, and all speaking from time to time, especially when a particular contract paragraph affects a specific job category.

And, yes, the process works paragraph by paragraph. At the beginning, some months ago, each side gave the other a proposal that would have changed the existing contract in major areas.

The company asked for an open shop, with employees not required to join a union (about a dozen different unions represent employees today), with a "management rights" section expanded to provide unilateral control over most disciplinary functions and a demand that employees pay a large share of hospitalization insurance premiums, all at no increase in salary for the life of the contract. But, it is just a beginning position.

The union asked for strong job protection, major wage increases and enlarged areas of jurisdiction, improvements in the health and pension plans and so on. Same sort of position.

Neither side expected--nor expects--to win all its bargaining points. The piles of chips sit on the table, and the negotiators often argue fiercely over what seems like minutiae, but each brick of the contract is carefully balanced, carefully put in or taken out of the wall that protects, and contains, both sides.

Whether for good or for ill, the existing contract has an "evergreen clause," which means that the contract remains in force, with wages and other provisions still determining how the two sides work. A "no strike, no lockout" clause also keeps both sides at the table. The current contract has been extended since March.

Tactics haven't changed much, either. Over the last decade, the tall, slender Lowe seems to have mellowed a little; he's more restrained in his use of sarcasm, Hammett can be more argumentative when he is trying to make a point, and he sometimes gets excited but calms down rapidly. Across the table, which has a moat-sized gap in the middle, Goodrick is bulldog-like when it comes to repeating his own proposals, or objecting to one from management. O'Neil, soft-spoken and rarely excited at the sessions, speaks softly, an Irish lilt to his arguments, though, at one point, his dander went up and he told Lowe, "If you think you're just going to pound us, you're going to get blood on your hands. …

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