Choiceless 

Finally, in election news of another sort, News Hits offers up this evaluation of the situation union workers seeking contracts at the city’s two daily papers faced: Take it or leave it.

That is basically what the Detroit Newspaper Guild members were told before voting to approve a contract this week with the Detroit Newspapers, the agency that oversees the Detroit News and Free Press.

“The contract is horrible,” says Bob Erickson, who was with the Detroit News about 19 years before he and about 2,500 other workers went on strike in 1995.

According to the new three-year contract, employees hired after the strike began are not obligated to join one of the paper’s unions or pay union dues.

The contract also “imposes merit pay, which is what we went on strike over,” says Erickson. Under the new Guild contract, which covers about 450 employees, Free Press workers will get 2 percent annual raises and possible merit pay. News employees are stuck with straight merit-pay increases — that is if managers deem them worthy of an increase.

What angered Erickson most about the contract, he says, is that it does not include any provisions for workers who were fired during the the strike.

“There was no redress for the fired workers,” he says. “We had always promised we would not get a contract without it.”

According to Guild President Lou Mleczko, about 148 employees were fired during the strike. He says that the new contract states that each dismissal will be reviewed by management on a case-by-case basis, but there is no guarantee that those workers will be rehired.

“It is up to the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) to make a determination of those fired cases,” says Mleczko.

“We did have to give up some things but there are many protections in that contract,” says Detroit News reporter Susan Whitall, who is part of the contract bargaining unit. The contract preserved workers’ pensions and they do not have a co-pay on health care, she says.

Three unions must still ratify their contracts before the long and bitter dispute is finally settled. In at least one respect, it looks a lot like the presidential election: No matter who claims victory, the whole thing took such a toll on everyone involved there are no real winners, just losers all around.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or cguyette@metrotimes.com

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