The Ann Arbor News, which surprised many in the community with its endorsement of President Bush during the 2004 campaign, has once again acted contrary to the values of the community it serves. Several Ann Arbor News employees have worked recently as strikebreakers at the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator. Even more troubling, The Ann Arbor News employees’ efforts to break the strike appear to be part of a coordinated response by the Newhouse newspaper chain, which owns the Ann Arbor News and at least five other newspapers that have reportedly sent scabs to the Vindicator. The Ann Arbor News should not allow its employees to take part in further strikebreaking efforts, and it should come clean to its readers about its employees’ past participation.
One hundred and seventy members of Local 34011 of the Newspaper Guild employed at the family-owned Youngstown Vindicator have been off the job since Nov. 16 — their first strike in 40 years — in a dispute over wages and benefits. After accepting concessions and wage freezes over the last four years, union members, over half of whom make less than $9 an hour, are seeking pay increases ranging from 35 to 50 cents per hour over three years. There have been no negotiations since the union rejected the paper’s “last and best” offer in December.
Management counters that the paper is losing money and cannot afford the pay increases. Its actions during the strike, however, speak otherwise. In addition to paying for private security guards, the company has lured reporters and editors to cross the union’s picket line for two-week stints by reportedly offering a per diem bonus of $75 and by paying hotel expenses and on top of an hourly rate of $20 — greater than the union’s top pay scale of $17.82. Replacement workers are also allegedly being paid by their home papers for the two weeks they are away. Scabs have come from as far away as Massachusetts, New Orleans and, unfortunately, Ann Arbor.
The Newhouse chain is apparently recruiting its employees to work at the Vindicator. An e-mail by the executive editor of the Newhouse-owned paper The Oregonian obtained by The Business Journal, a Youngstown-area publication, states that “Our parent company is helping the management in Youngstown continue to publish by supplying workers from our sister paper in New Orleans.” The ability of a large newspaper chain like Newhouse to help supply scabs is another unwelcome effect of the national trend toward media conglomeration, which has homogenized editorial content and decreased the number of sources providing local news in communities across the country.
The Ann Arbor News’s participation in efforts to break the Vindicator strike contrasts dramatically with the sentiments of Ann Arbor’s predominantly liberal populace. Many residents here — and many Ann Arbor News subscribers — would strongly disapprove with the paper’s decision to allow its employees to work at the Vindicator during a strike. Yet The Ann Arbor News has not informed its readers about the paper’s role in the Vindicator strike.
The scabs’ efforts prolong the strike and leave more working families struggling to get by on $300 a week in strike pay as the work stoppage drags into its fourth month. Youngstown has a strong tradition of unionism, and the general manager of the Vindicator, Mark Brown, has said publicly that he has no intention of breaking the union. If so, it is in everyone’s interests that the strike be resolved as soon as possible. By supplying scab workers, The Ann Arbor News is not helping.