Unions call for ‘all-fronts’ boycott of BladeWritten by Justin R. Kalmes | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Council of Newspaper Unions responded to a lockout The Blade issued Aug. 20 against one of its unions by declaring an “all-fronts” advertising and subscription boycott against the newspaper.
Larry Vellequette, council spokesman, said the boycott included all holdings by Block Communications Inc., The Blade’s parent company, which also owns media outlets in Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Locally, BCI owns a cable company (Buckeye CableSystem) and WLIO, Lima’s NBC affiliate.
Ron Garcia, TCNU president, and Toledo Newspaper Guild President Lillian Covarrubias said at an Aug. 21 news conference the boycott was a direct response to The Blade locking out members of the Graphic Communications International Union Local 27-N. The Blade issued the lockout early Aug. 20 against the engravers, employees who make plates needed to print the newspaper.
“This is a vicious, anti-lawful, anti-union lockout of the engravers,” Garcia said.
Eight members of the engravers union were notified of the lockout early Sunday, and the one employee remaining on the premises was told to clean out his locker and turn in his identification badges, Garcia said. During the lockout, affected workers are eligible to receive unemployment benefits and supplemental pay from the union, he said.
Blade spokeswoman Luann Sharp said the newspaper will fill the jobs with management and temporary workers and does not expect production to be interrupted. The nine workers are not being fired and can return to work once their union ratifies a contract, Sharp said.
“I’m disappointed that they’ve chosen this course of action,” Sharp said of the council’s boycott issuance. “Businesses advertise in order to get traffic into their business. Why they’ve decided to target other businesses and their employees I don’t understand.”
Sharp said she could not confirm or deny the newspaper had plans to lockout other unions. She said the company’s goal is to schedule more negotiating sessions with the unions that are still without a contract.
“I can’t say we won’t do any additional lockouts, we’d just prefer not to,” Sharp said.
Eight unions representing about 650 workers have been negotiating with the company since their contracts expired March 21, and one agreement has been reached. The International Brotherhood of Electricians agreed to a three-year contract in July that included wage and benefit cuts.
In mediation sessions last week, the newspaper’s unions offered wage reductions of up to 6 percent, health care contribution increases of up to 20 percent and vacation reductions. The unions also offered to give the company a management rights clause for the first time that would give administrators more flexibility to control staffing levels, layoffs and mandatory overtime shifts. Previous contracts did not include such a clause. The Blade rejected the offers.
Union members said the newspaper is trying to divide its union workforce.
“They want to unilaterally destroy us,” said Mollie Rogers, who has worked at the newspaper as a mailer for 14 years. “It’s not about the money. It’s all about destroying and separating our unions.”
Sharp said that is not the case.
“Those are issues we still have not yet resolved with our unions and we do have to find a way to do that,” Sharp said of the management rights clause. “We do need to find a way to increase our revenues and reduce our expenses in order to start turning a profit.”
The last contract agreement reached between The Blade and its unions, in 2003, included a three-year wage freeze. Employees worked for about nine months without a contract before reaching a deal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.