Sat Nov 12 08:48:38 PST 1994


Tentative pact includes pay hikes, job protections

By Eric Brazil and Carl Nolte
Special to the Free Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Eight striking labor unions reached a dramatic early morning agreement Saturday that will end San Francisco's 11-day-old newspaper strike if it is approved by union members.

Picket lines were removed at 4:35 Saturday morning, and the unions suspended their advertising and circulation boycotts against the morning Chronicle and evening Examiner.

The agreement provides for modest pay increases and Teamster job protections -- and delivered a stunning political victory for Mayor Frank Jordan.

Under the proposed pact, 2,600 advertising representatives, truck drivers, printers, reporters and other workers will get an average 3 percent per year pay raise for a contract that will expire in 1998. It will also allow managers to modify the newspaper delivery system with gradual job reductions through attrition, and provides additional pay increases for newspaper librarians.

Jordan brought the two sides together on the third day of the strike and kept them at the table even when prospects seemed bleak. Both management and the unions praised his work, which appeared to be vital to ending the bitter confrontation.

Union negotiators hailed the agreement as a victory for the newspaper unions -- and for labor organizations nationwide.

"The success of this strike will serve as a rallying point for unions across the country," said Doug Cuthbertson, chairman of the Conference of Newspaper Unions. "Some pundits have said that the union movement is on the wane in San Francisco. We proved them wrong."

Andy Cirkelis, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 921, said: "We stopped a lot of harm that was coming our way. ... Labor should be proud. We can't forget the solidarity and community support.''

Management negotiator Richard Jordan had a different assessment. "I don't know who won," he said. "We certainly don't think that we won. It was a tragedy for everyone. It should have been avoided, but if it weren't for the efforts of the mayor, this could have been worse."

Even before the deal was completed, Mayor Jordan was airborne, heading for Asia on a long-planned trade mission.

The unions' contracts expired Nov. 1, 1993. The strike began exactly a year later, when management failed to return to the bargaining table some 20 hours after the strike deadline had passed.

On Nov. 4, Jordan summoned negotiators for both sides to his office to meet with federal mediators, and the talks continued for eight consecutive days. The talks nearly broke down several times -- most recently late Friday night, when Jordan, normally a mild-mannered man, lost patience with both sides.

Jordan was under twin pressures -- to get the strike resolved and to lead the Asia trade mission.

While most of the San Francisco delegation had left without Jordan, Vietnamese Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet refused to deal with the lower-level members. The mission would have collapsed if Jordan had not made his midnight departure Friday -- yet if the strike became a protracted dispute, the cost to the city and the mayor himself would have been enormous.

No one will go to work until the contract is ratified by all eight unions. Most unions were planning to schedule ratification meetings Sunday, and the Chronicle and Examiner might be produced with union personnel as early as Monday.

The two papers had continued to publish slimmed-down editions since the strike began, using nonunion management personnel and hired strikebreakers. In addition, the strikers' newspaper, the Free Press was published daily online on the internet.

The use of the strikebreakers produced a good deal of hostility on the picket lines and some violence.

One of the key problems in resolving the strike was a question of amnesty. The unions said they would not go back to work until all the strikers were taken back, and management wanted to hold off on restoring some people who they said had been violent. The tentative deal provides that everyone will get their jobs back except those who are convicted of felony charges.

The agreement provides a raise of approximately $105 a week over the life of the contract and apparently solves the key issue of the strike: how to change the newspapers' distribution system without losing jobs.

The unions claimed that management had planned to cut up to 150 driver jobs held by Teamsters, but the agreement apparently provides for changes in the distribution system without the loss of jobs. Specific details were not available Saturday morning.

Newspaper librarians covered by The Newspaper Guild will get a larger pay increase than other workers -- about 7 percent -- but will not get the parity with reporters and editors that they had sought.

Other issues that were resolved included protection of seniority rights for Teamsters, an ergonomic study for mailers who had complained about on-the-job safety problems and job recognition for janitors at satellite plants.

The picket lines came down just before 5 a.m., as union leaders arrived to tell strikers that it was all over.

At Fifth and Mission streets in San Francisco, the main plant of the two papers and the Newspaper Agency, the few pickets on duty cheered and laughed.

"I'm ecstatic," said John Heise, a Teamster driver. "I have a family, three kids, a wife -- she's been driving me crazy for days. "We had to make a stand. This company wasn't going to move till we made a stand. They thought we were going to roll over and take whatever they threw at us."

Socorro Quiles, who works in the Chronicle customer service department, screamed, "It's great! We won! We had to stick together. It feels real good."

Free Press reporter Pamela Burdman contributed to this report

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