Susan Brownmiller Ponders the 1965 Newspaper Strike

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September 30, 1965, Vol. X, No. 50

New York’s Newspapers: Case of a Cloudy Future

By Susan Brownmiller

In a ground floor meeting hall of a small building on West 44th Street, striking elevator operators, stenographers, adding machine clerks, and office boys draw together by occupation in little cliques. They chat, drink coffee, nibble danish pastries, and gossip to pass away the idle time. They get their picket line assignments here — they must put in 20 hours a week — and pick up their strike pay: from $40 a week for a single person up to $89 for a worker with six dependents. The meeting hall is called the Heywood Broun room, and it is strike headquarters for the Times unit of the New York Newspaper Guild. These diverse workers form the base of what is thought of as the reporters’ union.

There are proportionately few reporters in the room.

Many have found temporary work as the radio and TV stations expanded their news coverage for the strike’s duration, but that isn’t the only reason. The vertical, or industrial, concept of organization for which Heywood Broun fought hard in the early days of newspaper organizing, when some of his fellow reporters preferred the idea of a professional association, has created a lopsided union. The New York Times Guild unit has 2200 members. There are 750 editorial employees on the paper. While union membership is mandatory for non-editorial employees under Guild jurisdiction, reporters, copy editors, and those in the higher editorial echelons, called groups 10 and 0 in the Times-Guild contract, are not required to join. A union shop with 100 per cent membership is one of the major Guild bargaining issues, but it is by no means the critical issue, and most likely will be sacrificed when the new contract is finally dawn. One other issue out of the 20 involved is specifically a reporters’ demand: they want syndication rights for their stories which go out on the wire of the New York Times News Service. Beyond this, it is not a reporters’ strike.

Over at the Commodore Hotel, due east, where negotiations are in progress, the small crew of working newsmen fights the boredom of the trade as they sit in the chintzy studio suite which serves as a press room or stand in the dark carpeted corridor. This is a dull story to cover. There is little to do but watch the doors and wait for a statement from one of the mediators. The Guild unit is closeted in one room, the Time management people in another. and the mediators meet with smaller groups from time to time in a third location. Federal, state, and city mediators are in on the negoatiations, but Theodore Kheel, Mayor Wagner’s special labor man, spends most of his time at the Biltmore a few blocks away, where the Mailers’ negotiations take place. It is felt by the mediators that a settlement of the Mailers’ dispute will be a good psychological lever in settling the Guild strike. The Mailers, who handle the newspapers from the time the sheets roll off the press to when the bundles are hoisted onto the delivery trucks, announced after the start of the strike-cum-lockout that they would not go back to work until their own contract was renegotiated. They want job security for their 250 “permanent substitutes.”

When the Guild struck the Times on September 16, and the Publishers Association, minus the New York Post, closed down the rest of the city’s papers, it was difficult to believe the city might be in for a repeat of 1963’s painful 114-day newspaper vacuum, when Publishers and Typographers locked horns over automation. The newspaper business throughout the country is not a healthy industry. The Times and the Daily News are the only strong shops here. Last year’s blackout caused the demise of the Daily Mirror and a loss in circulation among the other dailies from which they have not recovered. None of the afternoons are solid, and the struggling Herald Tribune, which broke from the Publishers Association and resumed publication on Monday, dropped from 500,000 before the last strike to below 350,000, despite some of the best editorial talent and the spiffiest grooming in town.

What used to be called “the spectre of automation” has achieved a recognizable physical shape in the form of an IBM computer. Tied to its tail is the knotty problem of jurisdiction over said computer. And in the role of Sir Lancelot or St. George is job security. The Times wants to automate some of the clerical and billing departments. The Guild wants assurance that nobody will be thrown out of work. They want it written into the contract that the company will find new spots within the organization for all present Guild employees who are automated out of a job, with company-provided retraining if needed. The Times management wants a cut-off date on job security. They do not want to be responsible for any person hired after last April. The Guild further wants to be able to sit down with management and discuss how and where the new processes will be used, and wants a stipulation that people who operate the new machines will be under Guild jurisdiction. This major concession was won by the Typographers during their last do in April, and in the battle for intra-union dominance within the plant, the Guild wants equal footing with the Typographers’ Union, particularly since one computer can set type at night, and then be wiped out and reprogrammed in the morning to bill classified ad customers. Computer jurisdiction is a sore point with the publishers, who regret the concession made to the ITU in a near-strike situation…and still haven’t signed the Typographers’ contract.

A more negotiable issue is the pension plan. The Guild would like to incorporate the Times company pension system into the farther-reaching Guild plan. Suspicion had run high at the Times Guild unit that employee contributions to the company pension system had been so skillfully invested by Prudential Insurance that the Times Company didn’t need to contribute its share. A Guild request for essential pension data was finally honored during the course of the negotiations, thanks to mediator Kheel, and the Guild’s Detroit-based actuary flew in on Tuesday to present his analysis.

On Monday evening a state mediator announced that for the first time one of the major issues had been tackled successfully. He refused to name which one. Until this breakthrough, only the less critical issues such as severance pay on death or retirement, the mechanics of overtime, night pay differentials, and job descriptions had been thoroughly thrashed about.

Meanwhile, discussing the fate of the dailies offers greater mental exercise of the Lindsay-Beame fracas. Here is the Post pulling at capacity, limited to 96 pages of ads because printing more pages requires the use of a second press, and that is needed for an increased run. On the editorial side, the paper’s coverage suffered, if anything, because there was no New York Times to crib from. “More news in depth,” she said, and increased the obituaries. Will Mrs. Dorothy Schiff, unlike what happened after the last strike, be able to hold onto some of the increased circulation? If a p.m. goes, will it be the Journal-American? A Hearst paper just folded in San Francisco and there has been other attrition of the Hearst empire. The Journal-American failed to gain in circulation after absorbing the columnists of the Mirror, which says something about Old Gray Winchell. The Tribune’s Sunday paper, despite its glamorous target population, is in the red. The morning Trib doesn’t get the ads. P.M.’s get taken home and have a better chance with advertisers. Since the city population is not growing, suburban readership is the key. Will the Trib be able to buy a p.m.’s downtown plant and switch to the afternoon? Despite a franchise problem, the logistics of distributing a p.m. from the Times Square area during the mid-day traffic jam makes the project unfeasable under present conditions. Who will swallow whom or merge with whom? Keep tuned to your local TV station and see.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]

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