Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Unions Boycott Weekly over Editorial 'Bias.' ('Suffolk Life') (Editorial)

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Unions Boycott Weekly over Editorial 'Bias.' ('Suffolk Life') (Editorial)

Article excerpt

UNHAPPY WITH WHAT they perceive as a history of biased editorials, unions in Suffolk County, N.Y., have vowed to boycott a weekly newspaper and its advertisers until the editorials become more balanced.

What set the boycott in motion was an editorial in April in Suffolk Life, a weekly mailed to 510,000 Suffolk homes, in which publisher Dave Willmott raised questions about a contract between the county and the faculty of Suffolk County Community College.

Willmott said that instead of annual pay increases of 4%, 4.5% and 5%, the raises, which included previously contracted step increases, would actually range from 24.5% to 41.2% by the 1995-96 school year. He also contended that the contract would serve as a benchmark for other county unions and would destroy the area's already shaky economy. He urged county legislators to reject the contract, which they did the following week. The contract is now in mediation.

It was not the first time Willmott has upset readers nor the first time he has taken on unions.

In 1982, he wrote a series of editorials opposing contracts for public employees. The contracts were signed, but there was an attempted arson at the newspaper's printing plant and Willmott received threats and dog excrement in the mail.

"There's nothing like that now," Willmott said. "This is a highly sophisticated, organized campaign. I've heard they have telephone banks and are calling our advertisers, urging them to drop out of the paper."

Suffolk County Community College faculty association officials said the April editorial was the last straw.

"For years, Dave Willmott has taken on teachers in general and other county employees," said Ellen Schuler Mauk, president of the faculty union.

The union first urged members to write letters, a tactic she said was unsuccessful. "Letters stating our position were either not published or, if they were, always had an editorial rebuttal added on."

After the contract had been rejected, the faculty union decided to fight back in a more public way.

In May, 160,000 postcards were printed and each county union member -- including teachers, police and other civil servants -- received 10 cards. Half were to have been sent to Suffolk Life requesting that their names be removed from the newspaper's mailing list. …

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