YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Fed up with years of wage freezes and concessions in health care benefits, workers represented by Local 11 of The Newspaper Guild went on strike Nov. 16 against the The Vindicator, a daily newspaper published here and circulated in northeastern Ohio and parts of western Pennsylvania.
The 179-member local represents reporters, photographers, copy editors, circulation managers, delivery drivers and advertising salespeople.
The walkout was joined by the Teamsters union, which represents 25 mailers at the newspaper. Both unions voted overwhelmingly to strike over the issues of wages, health care, sick leave and job bidding rights. The early-morning walkout began 90 minutes after the expiration of a two-year contract, and no union members have crossed the picket lines.
The company immediately called in scab truck drivers from Tennessee and other southern states and hired a squad of goons, ominously dressed in black military wear and equipped with video cameras, to intimidate the unionists.
The union, in turn, went to work on a strike paper, publishing its first edition of The Valley Voice Nov. 19. The strike paper is a weekly, but the Guild plans to put it out twice a week if the strike continues.
Despite severe economic depression in this city — caused by the loss of its steel industry more than 20 years ago — a spirit of union solidarity remains strong. Pickets surrounding the newspaper’s downtown production facilities are greeted daily by continuous honking car horns, cheers, clenched fists and thumbs-up signs. There has been an outpouring of support from the local labor community and from unions in Cleveland, about 70 miles to the northwest.
The last time the union struck was 40 years ago. Workers hope that their work stoppage during this holiday season — normally the time when newspapers make their most money selling advertising — will force the company to sign a fair contract.
Sporadic bargaining sessions have continued during the strike, but the two sides last week were reportedly very far apart on money, with the company offering a mere 1-percent wage increase.
During contract talks two years ago, the company pressed union members to contribute to their health care plans, which up until then had been fully paid by the company. The union agreed, but only with the understanding that management and nonunion employees were contributing as well.
The union discovered this month that the company had lied. Only union members have been paying into health care over the last two years, giving management and nonunion employees a free ride. Striking sportswriter Pete Mollica told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he has lost $8,000 annually due to cutbacks in wages and benefits.
Anthony S. Markota, president of Local 11, told the Akron Beacon Journal, “Our members are very strong and we are going to stay out until we get a fair and equitable contract.”
For more information, visit the union’s web site at www.valleyvoiceonline.com.click here for Spanish text