Sunday, February 24, 2008


Is Gannett planning a strike at the Advertiser?

by Larry Geller

A light bulb went on above my head this morning. Something that bolsters my belief that Gannett is pushing for a strike.

On December 28, 2007, after publishing USA Today on its new state-of-the art German presses for three years, the Advertiser announced that production will pull back to California. USA Today will now be delivered a day later in Hawaii and cost more. Hotel guests will get their news later.  Why??

It didn't compute for me then, but it does now: Gannett is protecting USA Today from being cut off during a strike.

Admittedly, this is pure speculation on my part, but those presses have incredible capacity, more than can be used for local requirements. They can print up to 70,000 papers per hour, including full color. The MAN Roland offset presses are the equal of anything else in their system. Sure, I could be off base on this, but I'm happy with my theory for the moment. If it turns out that USA Today still has distribution here during a strike, that will be telling.

I suggest we change the linguistic frame around labor/management disputes. The commercial media, and what has come to be popular usage, has it that unions (framed as the bad guys) plan strikes against poor innocent management.

The frame includes the prejudice that the problem is caused by the unions. Management suffers, often ordinary people suffer, and if the unions win or lose, they deserve the loss of pay because it's their fault. It's all part of the same frame. You see, it's the union action that is the cause of the problem, in this frame. It's only occasionally reported that CEOs often continue to draw exorbitant salaries, and paradoxically, if they successfully squeeze labor, they may earn even higher bonuses.

The media will say a company is having "labor problems" but you never hear or read about their "management problems."

Never mind that it takes two to make a contract, and quite often these days, management is squeezing labor as hard as it can.

In this Star-Bulletin article, we see that the unions have said they want to bargain:

While the possibility of a strike is not immediate, union officials hope the vote will send a message to management that employees want to continue bargaining.

"The idea isn't to get a strike; the idea is to get a settlement that can be fair and that we can live with," said Wayne Cahill, administrative officer of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild.

Speaking of squeezing, the article goes on:

Union leaders say the company has not bargained with the unions. The company did not meet with the union from June to November, then on Jan. 25 presented a final offer that could be implemented if not ratified within 30 days.

The proposed contract would be retroactive from June 10, 2007, and run to March 1, 2009. The employee's last contract expired June 9 but continues because of an extension agreement.

The company's offer includes a 1 percent pay increase effective Oct. 27, 2008, a 1.5 percent bonus and higher medical premiums and drug costs for both HMSA and Kaiser members. Costs for medical office visits would increase for Kaiser members.

So reading the first paragraph, is it the unions who are pushing for this strike, or is it the Advertiser/Gannett? Is management planning to dig in and impose their will on the unions?

The pullout of USA Today makes me think that's exactly what they have in mind. I hope I'm wrong.


Good one, Larry.

Another area where labor's voice is muted and distorted is in the "business" section of newspapers and other media. Shouldn't we have an equally informative "labor" section?

Unfortunately, nowadays many working people have come to believe that the interests of management and labor are identical rather than opposed to eachother.

Decades of anti-labor propaganda in the corporate media has done its job, apparently. Ordinary people tend to believe that "unions have become too powerful." What? Unions have steadily lost strength and numbers in the past few decades - especially since Reagan began the slide with his intervention in the air-traffic controllers' strike. Since then, to the dismay of many of us wobbly-style unionists, unions have been forced to become more and more narrowly focussed on smaller piecs of the pie and lost their position of strength in a broad movement for social and economic justice. So we have the sad spectacle of working people fighting over the crumbs of empire, to the detriment of long-term visions of real security and justice.

Luckily, a new generation of activists and organizers with a vision of unionism more akin to that of their early 20th-century forbears has been gaining momentum, particularly in the service industry, which tends to be populated with immigrants, people of color and a high percentage of women. I am happy to witness from afar the scrappy, fighting spirit re-emerge in labor organizations like the Coalition of Imokalee Workers, composed mostly of Latino immigrants, who organized a successful campaign and boycott to force Taco Bell to increase what it pays for tomatoes in order to improve conditions for the pickers. Check out their website to see what the new "old school" labor movement is up to:


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