The dispute began innocently enough. Shortly after midnight on Oct. 25, Dominic Proce, a supervisor at a New York Daily News printing plant, saw delivery-truck driver Gary Kalinich sitting at a lunch table reading a newspaper. The supervisor told the driver that he was supposed to be monitoring bundles of newspapers as they came off a conveyor belt 20 m away. An argument ensued, and the supervisor suspended Kalinich. As a result, 34 fellow drivers, who normally monitor conveyor belts until their trucks are loaded, walked off the job in sympathy.
A little over two hours later, when a bus rolled up to the plant carrying nonunion replacement workers, about 200 angry Daily News employees attacked it with rocks and other objects.
The fracas erupted after 10 months of inconclusive contract negotiations between the Chicago-based Tribune Co., which owns the paper, and its employees’ unions. It also signalled the start of a bitter strike that could determine the survival of the Daily News, North America’s largest-selling daily tabloid, with an average circulation of 1.2 million.
According to spokesmen for the Tribune Co., the underlying issue in the dispute is whether the unions or management will control the newspaper. When new contract talks began last January, negotiators for the 10 unions representing 3,300 editorial, production and distribution workers tabled demands for im-
proved working conditions, job security and higher pay. At the same time, Joseph Hays, the Tribune Co.’s vice-president of corporate relations, said that management presented a set of “hard, stark demands” that would reduce the paper’s staff, cut down on overtime and strengthen management control.
Despite the strike, Daily News management personnel continued to publish slender editions of the paper with the help of reporters and editors from four other Tribune-owned publications, including The Chicago Tribune and The Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel. The striking workers responded with almost night-
ly violence and vandalism against the paper’s three printing plants. At one point, strikers tried to halt distribution of the paper by firebombing delivery trucks. They also threatened to bum down any city newsstands that continued to sell the paper. By late last week, New York City police had arrested more than 25 people in connection with the strike.
For the Tribune Co., the dispute represented a determined attempt to assert control over the Daily News. Hays said that, between 1980 and 1989, the paper lost $134 million. As well,
Tribune officials said that under the contracts that expired on March 30, unions for the production and distribution workers had the sole right to decide which of their members would work. Said Daily News publisher James Hoge: “Management does not even have the basic right to hire, supervise or determine how work gets done. It’s a nightmare.”
For their part, union officials say that the company was planning to carry out a restructuring similar to that which occurred at The Chicago Tribune in 1985 following a long and bitter strike. After eliminating 400 jobs and slashing operating costs by 50 per cent, The
Chicago Tribune made a $ 163-million profit last year.
Although the unions succeeded in seriously disrupting distribution of the Daily News, they faced a costly loss of support from some of their members as the standoff dragged on. By late last week, about 300 members of the Newspaper Guild, which represents 750 journalists, administrative and advertising staff, had crossed picket lines to return to work. And that only added a new twist to an already violent and bitter strike.
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