Union Mad

Dave Lawrence really wants you to know what he thinks of those fiendish Detroit newspaper strikers

Adds Daniel Hebert, who has worked on the presses in Detroit for 29 years: "Lawrence is in his own little world. Financially I've been able to handle the strike. But we've got younger people who are losing their homes standing up to this company. What the company is doing is wrong."

The National Labor Relations Board would seem to agree. After reviewing the events leading up to the strike, the NLRB found sufficient evidence to support the allegation that Knight-Ridder and Gannett refused to bargain in good faith, thereby forcing the walkout. The board has filed formal charges against the two companies; a hearing will ultimately decide the issue.

The AFL-CIO's Ed Feigen says the Herald boycott effort will continue until the strike is over, with a new group of Detroit strikers dispatched each week to staff phone banks in Dade and Broward.

As part of the campaign, the visiting strikers also attend various union gatherings, where they talk about the strike and present a twenty-minute videotape, a mix of TV news clips and raw video footage showing police and private security guards wading into crowds of striking newspaper workers, beating them with clubs and batons.

"When our members see videotape of Knight-Ridder's hired goons beating up workers on the Detroit picket lines, they don't think twice about dumping the Herald," says Mike Ozegovich, secretary-treasurer of the South Florida AFL-CIO. "Nobody wants to contribute a dime to the Herald knowing that Knight-Ridder will send their money to Detroit to hire goons."

Local union leaders are also able to hear personal accounts of the violence from mailroom worker Steve Munson. On the first night of the strike, Munson says, he took off in his car after a delivery truck so a picket line could be set up at the distribution site. "We were going about 65 miles an hour when these two cars filled with private security guards started ramming us," Munson recounts. "They didn't stop until they ran us into a ditch." The driver of one of the cars was eventually arrested and charged with assault.

Ed Feigen is confident the South Florida boycott will take hold, despite the fact that Miami is by no means a hotbed of union activism. "If Knight-Ridder can destroy the unions in Detroit, then workers everywhere have reason to be worried," he contends. "Dave Lawrence can unilaterally eliminate 300 jobs and unilaterally declare that there won't be pay raises at the Herald for six months, and workers here have no way to question or challenge it," Feigen adds, commenting on the recent layoffs at the Herald. "And now he's complaining that efforts to start a boycott down here are going to cost more jobs, and he tells people he doesn't want to see that happen. Dave Lawrence expressing concern for people who are being laid off is like Freddy Krueger expressing concern for slashing victims."

Last week Feigen challenged Lawrence to appoint an independent commission to determine the exact number of people who have canceled their subscriptions or agreed not to buy the newspaper from news racks. "Lawrence is the one who started the numbers game," Feigen says, in reference to the Herald publisher's contention that only a handful of people had canceled their subscriptions. (The union claims more than 500 have either dropped home delivery or agreed to stop buying the paper.)

Reached by phone in his car, Lawrence stands by his published attack on the unions and says he is rejecting the offer to appoint an independent commission. ("I have no intention in participating in their games," he snaps.) "I have no apologies whatsoever for defending my newspaper and the newspaper of hundreds of thousands of people in South Florida," Lawrence shouts. The news story alongside his note gave the unions a chance to state their case, he argues, noting that it "had a larger headline.

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