Rarely does one see a bumper sticker or lawn sign anymore that reads, “No Free Press or News wanted here.” In fact, there are few visible signs that a bitter labor dispute once raged between the Detroit’s daily papers and the 2,500 workers who went on strike nearly seven years ago. But for Gary Rusnell, who was fired for allegedly blocking the front doors of the Detroit News building during a demonstration, the battle still may not be over.
After a mere 5 1/2 year legal battle, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled last week that Rusnell is entitled to full back pay, benefits and his job. The appeals court affirmed an earlier ruling that put Rusnell, a printer with Detroit Typographical Union Local 18, back at work in December 2000.
After the six striking unions made an unconditional offer to return to work in 1997, Detroit Newspapers (which manages advertising and other joint operations for both dailies) refused to rehire strikers who were fired for alleged illegal acts, including Rusnell. Because his union had a lifetime job guarantee agreement with the papers before the strike ensued, the printer filed a grievance. The courts upheld the agreement and ordered Rusnell back to work in 2000, while the company appealed.
“I worked there 26 years and I refused to walk away from my job,” says the 59-year-old Rusnell. But not everyone in his union felt that way. There are now only 21 union printers compared to 110 before the strike, says Rusnell.
“The strike was so brutal, they couldn’t picture working for a company like that and took what they could get and left,” he says. Most took severance packages.
Rusnell, who earns $35,000 annually, says that his back pay and benefits may amount to about $200,000. But who knows when and if he will get it? According to Tim Kelleher, Detroit Newspapers vice president of labor relations, the company is considering whether to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]