Court Ruling Hits Detroit Newspaper Workers

Against the Current, No. 70, September/October 1997

Dianne Feeley

IN AN UNEXPECTED blow to Detroit newspaper workers, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara on August 14 denied a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) request for a 10(j) injunction, which would force the Detroit Newspaper Agency (DNA) to fire its scab work forces at the “Detroit News” and “Detroit Free Press”, and to return 2000 locked-out workers to their jobs.

It was nearly two years after the DNA forced its workers out on strike that the NLRB petitioned the federal court for the injunction.

The standard for granting an injunction is “reasonable cause” that unfair labor practices occurred, and that implementation would be “just and proper.”  In a June 19 ruling, Administrative Law Judge Thomas Wilks had found the DNA guilty of ten violations of labor law.

O’Meara ruled, however, that there can’t be an answer to whether the company engaged in unfair labor practices until a full NLRB ruling and the appeal process is exhausted.  In effect O’Meara ignored Wilks’ finding, concurring with CEO Frank Vega’s comment that the DNA would hold out until the strikers got new jobs or died.

The newspaper unions have answered the DNA’s union-busting almost entirely with a legal strategy.  That was the strategy that halted mass picketing and the strategy when the six unions offered to return to work without a contract last February.  The DNA responded by saying the strike was over and it would recall strikers as needed-but they would not let the scabs go. Out of the 2,000 strikers, less than 300 have been recalled.

Many Detroit-area unionists responded to the ruling with suspicion that the company nicely compensated O’Meara, but a more accurate assessment came from one striker, who pointed out that “He was bought off twenty years ago when he went to law school.”

O’Meara is no right-wing era Reagan or Bush appointee, but in fact a Clinton appointee.  He has worked as a campaign manager for Democrat Sander Levin and his nomination was sponsored by Senator Carl Levin.  He is the kind of figure liberals choose as the lesser evil.

William B. Gould IV, chair of the NLRB, has taken the unusual step of publicly disagreeing with O’Meara’s decision “because it appears to proceed upon erroneous assumptions about fact and law.”  The NLRB will appeal the ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court.

Meanwhile both the unions and the company had already asked for an “expedited” ruling by the full NLRB on Judge Wilks’ decision.  At top speed, such a ruling might be expected before winter.

The Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions has called for a renewal of the readers’ and advertisers’ boycott against the “News” and “Free Press”.  The unions have indicated they will call a mass meeting of the locked-out workers in the near future.  They are sponsoring a demonstration in front of the “Free Press” building August 21 (just after “ATC” press time) as part of a nation-wide protest against Knight-Ridder for announcing that it will fire the entire work force of the “Monterey County Herald” when it assumes control of that newspaper in late August or early September.

Dianne Feeley is an editor of “Against the Current”

ATC 70, September-October 1997