Newspaper union showdown delayed

The end-of-the-month showdown between the Seattle Times Co. and Teamsters Local 174 truckers appears to be off, for now anyway. Times Co. senior vice president for human resources Alayne Fardella, in an update sent to the paper's employees today, Feb. 25, said the company has not sent the required 30-day notification of termination of its contract with 74 union truckers and mechanics, leaving the old contract in place. The company still plans to outsource bulk trucking of newspapers to private contractor Penske Logistics, Fardella says, but it isn't clear when.

Times officials say they need to outsource the truckers as part of the paper's effort to cut $21 million out of its operating budget this year. Penske, which met with officials from the union's local and international office last month, has other Teamsters contracts and told the union it was willing to fill the outsourced Times slots with Teamster members.

Teamster officials have said they oppose the outsourcing and warn that the effort could lead to a federal lawsuit, a picket line, or a boycott if the locally controlled, privately held Times Co. lays off truckers while the old contract remains in force. That could shut both of Seattle's dailies, because The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, separately owned by Hearst, function under a joint operating agreement (JOA) in which the Times Co. prints and distributes both papers. Fardella says the union has offered the P-I a "side deal" to ensure delivery of its papers in the event of any labor action against the Times.

But Patty Warren, senior business agent for Teamsters Local 174, which represents the truckers, says that Times labor negotiator Chris Biencourt told the union two weeks ago the paper didn't intend to meet its Feb. 29 outsourcing deadline. That would push back any face-off between the paper and the union at least to the end of March, according to Warren.

Is the Times Co. backing off? A spokesperson didn't return Crosscut's request for comment, but Fardella's memo says the company is moving toward a definitive agreement with Penske while being "as respectful as possible, to both our employees and the union, during this time of necessary change."

Still, by threatening to outsource the Teamsters by the end of this month, then pulling back, some union officials say, the paper is sending mixed messages to employees, many of whom are nervous about their jobs. The Teamsters, who also represent Times pressroom employees, would also be free to set up a picket line at the Times after their contract expires on Thursday.

"Sometimes you have to scratch your head and say, 'Who knows why the Times does what they do,'" says Liz Brown, administrative officer for the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, which represents news and advertising workers at both papers. The Guild's own contract ends July 21, and the union expects to begin negotiations for a new agreement by mid-May, Brown says.


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