[sixties-l] Re: Bay Guardian, Unions

From: PNFPNF@aol.com
Date: 11/05/00

  • Next message: PNFPNF@aol.com: "[sixties-l] Re: Bay Guardian, unions"

    Dear Peter,
    I believe that the unions that represented the Bay Guardian workers in the 
    1975-76 organizing drive, unionization, strike, and eventual union-busting by 
    the publisher, may have files on this; they were Newspaper Guild Local 52 
    (based in San Francisco, which I know did have materials on this in its 
    archives) andInternational Typographical Union Local 21 (based, too, in S.F.).
      Basically, a few staffers (mostly, I think, editorial rather than 
    production or adv. persons) began organizing in spring 1975; the paper had 
    won considerable money in a lawsuit settlement and moved to a new building, 
    but, curiously, there seemed "not enough funds" for salary or benefit 
    increases.  Momentum grew, including workers throughout the paper's 
    departments.  In the fall, workers confronted Brugmann with signed union 
    cards (I forget what percent had signed by then) and call for a union 
    election.  Amid mumblings re being a poor little paper (and, I think, 
    suggestions of the "what about a company union?" sort--but I'm not sure on 
    this), suddenly (day after Thanksgiving, I think), Brugmann fired a bunch of 
    people--five, I think, including some senior staff/reporters--most (never 
    all, in such cases, of course) of whom were leaders in the organizing drive.  
    People did not go out on strike then, but went on with the unionizing drive.  
    There were a number of written materials went out, during this time, 
    including a "pro-management" piece by Burton Wolfe, very long, that I am told 
    is a classic in anti-labor-speak, and a pro-union reply by Jerry Sager, a 
    pro-union supervisor (who was, of course, fired a couple months later for his 
    views--and the paper then tried to fight his getting unemployment!).  The 
    workers did get their union.  Then negotiations began for a contract.  
    Management stalled; a federal mediator was eventually brought in; the 
    pro-union supervisor and a few more workers were terminated, other workers 
    quit in protest, but still (by this point, early spring 1976) the union did 
    not strike.  Then, June 15, after negotiations that went on until 1 a.m., 
    finally the union called a strike.  [Note: I say "union" but there were 
    basically two, one for the editorial workers (Newspaper Guild), the ITU (much 
    more militant) for the others; mostly, they worked together very well.]  
      I was covering this whole thing for Grassroots, a Berkeley leftist paper, 
    and my stories were picked up by other left papers up and down the coast; so, 
    at 1 a.m. (I was dozing), the union person phoned me to say "We have just 
    walked out"; this was very nice, as I had just been starting to read Tom 
    Wicker's (spelling?) book on the Attica riots and had got to the part where 
    he is having dinner or something and the governor (or whoever) phones to ask 
    he come to Attica.   
      The strike went on with great public support, but Brugmann retained a few 
    management staff, and hired scabs and had the backing (doubtless financial as 
    well as consultation from skilled strikebreakers) of the American (?name?) 
    Newspaper Publishers Association...and, some have said (but it is NOT my 
    impression) perhaps the Newspaper Guild was not entirely enthusiastic to put 
    too much effort into helping "alternative" workers who were seeking a 
    contract, with a nonprofit, that was well under Guild wage-scale.    The 
    AFL-CIO and Central Labor Councils locally strongly backed the workers.  
    Cesar Chavez offered--in August, I think--to come and help in the 
    negotiations, but Brugmann...refused this; (the union kindly gave me, on this 
    story, the scoop).
       There were strike benefits, but people in the arts have ambitions, and 
    they needed to eat and pay rent, and so some strikers drifted to other jobs.  
    Remember that, the way this country works, in a union election in this sort 
    of situation, the scabs--"replacement workers"--get to vote just as people 
    do.  So, when "new union elections" were called, as they can be, a year after 
    the union had been voted in, both strikers (those still in the Bay Area) and 
    scabs got to vote...and the union lost.
       The paper, up until 1975, had been highly respected as the underdog 
    fighting progressive paper it claimed to be.  After 1976--in fact, once the 
    strikers went out--it could only survive by becoming a "freebie", a shopper 
    with events listings--and slowly, as the years went by, again a paper with 
    some news (though no longer sold but a giveaway).   As I said in the post you 
    saw, I walked off in disgust when Brugmann spoke (though doubtless he does 
    think of himself as a supporter of  progressive media); I am not alone in 
      Nor is the Bay Guardian particularly unique.  There were many, many 
    worker-management struggles--and in 1969 the strike that led to founding of 
    the Berkeley Tribe--on the early (and perhaps the later) Berkeley Barb, to 
    name one example among many.       Organizing in "progressive" media, 
    nonprofit organizations, etc., is very difficult for many reasons, including 
    the workers' love of their work and desire to protect and nurture the 
    organization that has goals they believe in; but it is, now as in the 1970s, 
    1960s, etc., quite as needed there as in the corporate world.

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