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Labor Negotiator in or out? Accusations Fly as Washington Post Labor Exec Is 'On Vacation' during Acrimonious Negotiations with Mailroom Union

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Labor Negotiator in or out? Accusations Fly as Washington Post Labor Exec Is 'On Vacation' during Acrimonious Negotiations with Mailroom Union

Article excerpt

Accusations fly as Washington Post labor exec is 'on vacation' during acrimonious negotiations with mailroom union

FRANK HAVLICEK, the longtime chief labor negotiator for the Washington Post, has been relieved of duties in negotiating a new contract for 600 mailers and mailroom helpers.

Post Co. President Boisfeuillet Jones Jr. said Havlicek had "resigned" and was on vacation pending finalization of his departure.

"This is his own decision, not anything that was asked of him," Jones said, giving no reason but hoping Havlicek would remain as a consultant.

"I have not resigned," Havlicek declared later the same day. He said he told management he would quit if it withdrew support for his plan to equalize the pay, benefits and work of the two separate bargaining units of the mailers union.

He said management refused his resignation offer, so he took vacation "in order to give the Post maximum flexibility?

A week earlier, Havlicek was replaced, without explanation, as the Post's chief representative in talks with the mailers union, leaving the union, Communications Workers of America Local 14201, unsure of Havlicek's status in the contentious talks, which began in mid-April to replace two contracts set to expire June 15.

Both sides accuse the other of threats, stalling and more.

The union said the company failed to answer questions about its proposals. Management said the union, in its intransigence and "bad faith; had refused to respond to offers, failed to propose counter offers, and refused to acknowledge management's acceptance of union proposals or unsolicited offers to improve terms.

In a seven-page memo distributed to hundreds of mailers, union officials and Post managers on May 22, Havlicek blamed the union for bringing the talks to a standstill, making an impasse likely come June 16, and proposed a "final offer"

The memo focuses on the company's effort to equalize the two mailroom bargaining units. The mailers unit, about 400 strong and mostly white and male, makes about $24 an hour, plus full health insurance, and enjoys lifetime job guarantees.The helpers, about 200 strong and mostly black and female, earn $18 an hour, with lower benefits and less job security.

In the memo, Havlicek said he was disappointed by the CWA's "total intransigence" on "such an issue of basic fairness as the integration of the separate but unequal" units--mailers and mailroom helpers --who work side by side inserting preprinted ad inserts into the Post.

"The divergent ethnic and gender makeup of these two groups... is the result of decades of hiring by the mailers union," he said, insisting on the company's "right as an employer to employ its own employees"

Since the newspaper had no power to merge the two bargaining units, it was proposing to achieve a similar end by contract terms: renaming all mailroom workers mailers, sharing work, increasing job security for helpers, increasing helper health insurance at the expense of current mailers, giving both units the same pay hikes and seeking "mirror image" contracts.

In an effort to afford helpers more equity and dignity, Havlicek said, the Post flatly refused union demands to make "arbitrarary distinctions" between the groups.

William Boorman, CWA vice president and head of the 25,000-member printing, publishing and media sector, said that among about 80 proposed contract changes, management was seeking a pay freeze in the first two years of a five-year contract, then raises of $7.50 a week every six months. He said the union wants major improvements in health insurance and significant annual raises.

Some union leaders suggested Havlicek was forced out over an exchange with Boarman in which Havlicek warned that the CWA wasn't big enough to take on the newspaper that took on the presidency- an allusion to Watergate that union officials called arrogant and typical of Havlicek's combative style. …

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