A Warning to Newspaper Managements: Labor Lawyer Robert Ballow Says Declining Union Membership and Activism Do Not Mean Labor Problems Have Disappeared

Article excerpt

WITH UNION MEMBERSHIP -- and activism -- continuing to run downhill, publishers might be tempted to ignore labor issues in favor of more pressing topics such as soaring newsprint costs and slumping readership.

But that would be a mistake, warned Robert Ballow, partner of the Nashville-based King & Ballow law firm, whose aggressive pro-management representation has made it anathema to newspaper unions.

"Employers who realize the importance of addressing labor issues will discover that by addressing labor concerns as a priority, many other problems will become manageable or may be eliminated," Ballow said. "Every aspect of the newspaper industry is somehow affected by labor issues -- from the content of the material published, to the production of the paper itself, to the distribution of the product to the consumer."

At the recent conference on international newspaper operations -- sponsored by the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers' Research Association (IFRA) and the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) -- Ballow suggested that the decline in union power has been offset by a rise in other contentious labor issues, such as age and sex bias claims.

Newspaper unions are indeed declining in membership, Ballow said.

In the newsroom, for instance, Newspaper Guild membership has dropped to approximately 27,000 -- about the level it had in the mid-1950s.

Production unions are falling off even more rapidly: For instance, the Graphic Communications International Union -- created from the merger of the two biggest press operators unions in 1982 - has fallen from a combined 171,000 in 1979 to 124,000 in 1989 and 95,000 in 1993, Ballow said.

But there are more troubling statistical increases, thanks to downsizing, technology and the increasing diversity of the workplace, Ballow noted. …

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