Vindicator strikers fight company takeaways

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Over 170 employees of The Vindicator newspaper remain on strike here as the walkout heads into its third month.

The workers, members of Local 11 of The Newspaper Guild (CWA 34011), are fighting management proposals to reduce health care benefits, impose other takeaways, and limit wage increases to only 1 percent. Local 11 represents newsroom production personnel, classified advertising salespeople, and delivery drivers, 171 people in all. Only eight workers have crossed the picket lines, and the spirit among the strikers remains strong. The workers continue to publish a weekly strike newspaper, The Valley Voice, which enjoys wide circulation.

Twenty-four mailroom clerks, represented by Teamsters Local 473, reached a tentative settlement with the company on Jan. 8, according to press reports. But the vast majority of the paper’s workers remain on strike.

As the last two-year contract neared its expiration date, Nov. 15, talks between the company and Local 11 broke down. Management proposed nothing but more concessions, just as it did back in 2000 and 2002. Wages were frozen in the 2000 contract and the value of the health insurance package was diminished.

Then the 2002 contract, reluctantly ratified, continued the freeze, conceded shift differentials and overtime for Sundays and holidays, and required worker payment toward health insurance premiums for the first time At that time labor was told that management and nonunion employees, about 150 people, would also have to share in the burden of health insurance costs. But to this day their plan still comes free, and it’s a better package.

The company promised to work with the local to cut costs, but instead continued to squander resources. The Vindicator was publishing four editions a day. The local suggested that one edition be printed to cut costs. That didn’t happen until after the strike began. Now management has difficulty getting even one edition into print.

Paper prices jumped. Management made plans to shrink The Vindicator’s format, purchasing narrower rolls of newsprint. The project fizzled out for reasons unexplained. Tons of paper rotted in a warehouse just outside of town, and was finally sold at great loss.

In addition, management has become top-heavy. The management-to-labor ratio in the newsroom is 1-to-3.

Workers are multitasking as union jobs disappear by attrition. Their paychecks do not reflect the cost of living, and their purchasing power has been sharply diminished over the life of the last several contracts. Hourly wages for Guild members range from $6.25 for the lowest paid drivers to $17.23 for the most highly paid reporters.

The local is calling for everybody’s pay to be raised by $7.50 per week every quarter over the next two years.

The company offered a 1 percent raise plus a bonus for ratification. That adds up to 6 cents an hour for workers who earn the lowest wage. In the second round of negotiations, the company tempered the offer with a 10-cent minimum raise, offset by a smaller bonus. Management wants to calculate raises on a percentage basis in an attempt to manipulate higher paid workers to break ranks and cross the line. It’s not working.

People who support the workers are canceling their subscriptions to The Vindicator, but that’s not so easy to do. Neighborhood carriers are still being charged for papers that have been cancelled and The Vindicator will not remove the names of cancellations from its lists.

In its first issue, The Valley Voice published a photo of a one-ton heap of Vindicator bundles left on the company loading docks. Now the company keeps wasted papers out of view, removing them in the pre-dawn hours. Next, the Voice showed Vindicator tonnage hogging the space in a recycling trailer in the suburbs.

While no new talks were scheduled at press time, union members remain steadfast. Local 11 President Anthony Markota told reporters, “Our ranks cover the full spectrum of life and we’ve all come together as one unit — caring for each other, watching over each other and united in one common goal, to get a fair and equitable contract.”