Detroit Newspapers Ratify Labor Contracts

DETROIT-The union representing editorial and maintenance workers at Detroit’s daily newspapers ratified contracts Sunday, becoming the third of six unions to agree to terms in the 5-year-old labor dispute, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

The contracts were overwhelmingly approved by three units of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit, Local 22, spokesman Lou Mleczko said. They go into effect as soon as the union and companies sign them, which is expected this week, and they expire Jan. 15, 2004, he said.

The Guild represents about 450 newsroom workers at The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press and janitors employed by Detroit Newspapers Inc., the paper’s joint business and production agency.

The newspapers and their joint operating agency made final offers to the six unions Oct. 19. No agreements have been reached with two Teamsters locals and a Graphic Communications International Union local.

The three remaining unions without contracts haven’t yet set a ratification vote, spokesman Shawn Ellis said. Tim Kelleher, Detroit Newspapers’ senior vice president of labor relations, said the unions were given until Nov. 15 to vote on the offers, except for the graphics union, which has longer because of a pending case before the National Labor Relations Board.

About 2,500 newspaper workers went on strike in July 1995. The strike ended in February 1997, but the unions continued their circulation and advertising boycotts. The newspapers kept their replacement workers and called former strikers back to work as jobs became available.

Mleczko said he expects the boycotts to end when the three remaining unions ratify contracts. “Once that’s over, it ends the formal labor dispute,” he said.

The Guild contracts approved Sunday call for a 2 percent raise each year for three years for janitors at Detroit Newspapers and newsroom workers at the Free Press, which also could grant discretionary merit raises, Mleczko said.

At the News, union minimum pay scales would be increased by 2 percent yearly. Workers above the minimum wouldn’t get across-the-board raises but would be eligible for merit pay.

Robert McGruder, the Free Press’ executive editor, said he hopes Sunday’s ratification votes will “pave the way” for the other unions to reach agreements.

Mark Silverman, publisher and editor of The Detroit News, said, “We hope to work together with the union that represents most of our employees and continue to do good journalism.”

The News is owned by Gannett Co., the Free Press by Knight Ridder.

The contracts ratified by the Guild Sunday and by the press operators last week call for bonuses if certain circulation goals are met. The typographers local reached agreement earlier.

Workers are to get $1,000 bonuses if the newspapers’ combined circulation increases by 100,000 between September 2000 and September 2001, $2,000 for a circulation increase of 150,000, and $3,000 if it increases by 200,000.

The new contracts changed coverage from a traditional Blue Cross-Blue Shield plan to an option between a preferred provider organization or an already offered HMO.

The contracts also have an “open shop” provision. Under it, Mleczko said, union membership is voluntary for new hires or for people working there who now aren’t members. Those who are union members would have to remain members throughout the contracts’ term, as would new hires who join the Guild.