Corporate roast

How do you commemorate a four-year labor dispute? With a pig roast, naturally – sans the pork. Several hundred locked-out Detroit News and Free Press workers and supporters cheered as they pretended to barbecue a man dressed in a pig suit, calling him their "corporate pig."

The group gathered downtown before the Detroit News and Free Press building last week to mark the four-year anniversary of the strike when 2,500 workers walked off their jobs July 13, 1995.

Dennis Nazelli, a locked-out district manager with Teamsters Local 372, led the hourlong rally. Standing before the upbeat crowd, Nazelli referred to the newspapers’ parent companies, Gannett and Knight Ridder, as "corporate pigs." He also characterized the companies’ recent attempt to negotiate a contract with the Teamsters as a ruse. Nazelli said the newspapers have no intention of settling the strike, but are merely trying to garner positive press and public support.

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, who spoke at the demonstration, made no mention of contract negotiations, but said that the union has spent $20 million on the strike since it began four years ago and will continue its support as long as it is needed. "If it takes $20 million more," he said, "we’re going to spend it."

With faces pressed against windows, newspaper employees and managers looked down on the event and at the sign unveiled at the rally. Atop the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees headquarters across the street from the newspaper building, a billboard reads, "Detroit News and Free Press obey the law! Settle with the union."

Just when the dispute will end is anyone’s guess.

According to Alan Forsyth, a locked-out Detroit News copy editor, since the unions made an unconditional offer to return to work February 15, 1997, about 525 workers have returned to their jobs and 1,000 are still locked out.

Tim Kelleher, vice president of labor relations for the newspapers, would not comment on contract negotiations. He did say that about 900 workers are back at the newspapers and about 540 have not been called back, but are on a preferential hiring list. Kelleher, who looks remarkably similar to the papier-mâché "corporate pig" head, laughed and added, "I wish they would get a better caricature of me."

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