Swing and a miss

It seems the editorial staff at the Observer & Eccentric newspapers has started playing hardball during union contract negotiations. And by hardball, we mean softball. And by softball, we mean Wiffle Ball. And by Wiffle Ball, we mean no balls at all.

OK, that’s too harsh. It’s not the lack of metaphorical balls as much as a shortage of good bats available to pound back at a recalcitrant ownership. After all, no newspaper employee in the area can forget what happened the last time guild members used the most extreme tactic available and went out on strike. They got crushed.

So we can understand the hesitance of the 60 or so writers and photographers at the O&E chain, which publishes 15 papers in Wayne and Oakland counties. Their contract expired in July. Since then they’ve been working under the terms of the old agreement while attempting to negotiate a new one.

But progress is slow, says Lou Mleczko, president of the Detroit Newspaper Guild, which represents the workers. Mleczko says that union members and management don’t agree on wages, health benefits, pension plans and other issues. Workers, who have not had a pay increase in nearly two years, are frustrated, he says.

To show just how peeved they are, they have decided to turn up the heat on management. (And by heat, we mean warm compress. And by warm compress we mean … well, you get the point.)

Writers and photographers have taken the tough stance of not allowing the papers to publish their bylines or photo credits with stories.

“The membership is trying to send a message to management that they want progress at the table,” says Mleczko.

But will management hear their roar? (And by roar, we mean meow.)

Not a chance, says Ben Burns, Wayne State University journalism department director.

“What it means is absolutely nothing,” says Burns. “If you withheld your byline six months it would not make the slightest difference to the readers.”

But what impact will it have on management? According to Burns, not much.

Phil Power, the owner of O&E, will notice that their bylines are missing in 2005,” he says.

We called O&E to obtain comment, but apparently they didn’t notice that, either, because we haven’t heard back.

So what is the alternative to withholding bylines and photo credits? Burns says union members should rigidly follow work schedules.

“If a story isn’t done, you go home anyway,” he says. “It drives management nuts.”

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