CARRYING a placard outside the Detroit News building here, truck
driver Jake J. says his union bosses would rather let two of
America's largest, big-city dailies die than kowtow to the "money
"You've got two big companies trying to impose their conditions
on the little guy because they want to make more money," says the
card-carrying member of Teamsters Local 372.
Inside, Bob Giles, editor and publisher of the afternoon paper,
responds. "The issue is our need to be able to run our business in
an efficient and competitive manner. If we don't, we're out of
Now entering its third week, Detroit's first newspaper strike in
15 years is the latest chapter in an increasingly familiar saga of
self-preservation for American newspapers: how to streamline costs,
modernize operations, and boost profits to stay alive amid growing
threats from other news and information outlets.
Twenty-five hundred newspaper employees walked off the job July
13 - mostly in noneditorial positions, from drivers to mailers to
printing-press operators. The six unions who represent them say
they disagree with management on a wide range of issues, such as
merit-pay increases, operating issues, and delivery-route sizes.
But Tim Kelleher, lead negotiator for the Detroit papers, says
the issue is simply "control."
"We have to finally end the entrenched featherbedding enjoyed by
union workers here, who work three hours of an eight-hour shift
before they stop for the day because there is nothing left for them
to do," Mr. Kelleher says.
Currently, federal mediators who have been trying to help the
negotiations say the two parties are too far apart to even confer
in the same room.
"Both sides are attempting to smear the other in the eyes of the
public," says Rich Boehne, an E.W. Scripps Company executive whose
company closed the Pittsburgh Press after an eight-month standoff
in 1993 that involved similar issues. "No one outside the
negotiations can really know what is being placed on the table by
Tempers on both sides are high, and threats of violence and
physical abuse are rampant. A night guard was shot in the face with
a pellet gun, and advertisers who continue to support the paper
have been threatened with boycotts.
In the meantime, the Knight-Ridder-owned Detroit Free Press
(morning) and the Gannett-owned Detroit News (afternoon) continue
to publish and distribute with the help of employees flown in from
other newspapers in their chains. …