Pick a Side: Detroit Newspapers' Chief Challenges Chamber of Commerce and United Way to Choose a Side in the Ongoing Newspaper Strike

Article excerpt

DETROIT NEWSPAPERS' CHIEF Frank Vega is challenging the Detroit Chamber of Commerce and United Way charity with a question borrowed from the old union song: Which side are you on?

Vega is irritated that these pillars of the business establishment are staying neutral during the strike against the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.

So now Detroit Newspapers, which runs business and production operations of the separately-owned papers, is considering dropping its longtime membership in the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, and with-drawing from participation in the United Way of Southeast Michigan.

The chamber upset Vega when it re, fused to support resolutions he offered that would put the business group on record supporting management in the strike and condemning the sporadic violence wreaked by some union members.

In addition, the chamber has refused to let the News regularly use a tunnel that connects the chamber officers with the newspaper as a way to shuttle employees past picket lines. The chamber building once belonged to the News -- which donated it to group in 1984.

"By taking a neutral stance, the chamber isn't being neutral. It is supposed to support its members," Vega said in a Detroit News story written by reporter Charles E. Ramirez. "I can only assume because many of its members have union shops, it is acting timidly, trying not to rock the boat.

"We have to reconsider our support of the Chamber of Commerce. Why should we support an organization that has a philosophy of supporting economic development and business and does just the opposite?" he said.

In a recent interview, Detroit Newspapers spokeswoman Susie Ellwood said joint agency officials are still discussing internally whether to drop membership.

According to the News, Detroit Newspapers pays about $20,000 annually in dues to the chamber, which with 10,000 member businesses is the second-largest chamber in the United States.

Chamber president Dick Blouse says his organization has never involved itself in the labor affairs of its member businesses.

"We just are not in the business of getting involved in the business of businesses", Blouse said in a telephone interview.

"We certainly don't condone the violence. …

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