Newspaper union members voted Sunday to authorize a strike against the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press on the eve of the newspapers' scheduled merger of non-editorial operations.
Teamsters officials said the strike was set for Thursday to give the employees time to get established under the new operations, set to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. today under a joint operating agreement first proposed in April, 1986. The merger was upheld earlier this month by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Talks between the Detroit Newspaper Agency, which will run the papers' combined operations, and the Newspaper Unity Coalition, representing the six largest News and Free Press locals, broke off Sunday evening.
The two sides were far apart on union wage demands, both newspapers reported Sunday.
"The members of both papers feel the money package and benefits were an insult to them," said Louis Mleczko, president of Local 22 of the Newspaper Guild. "The publishers are going to have to share some of the new riches from the 100-year monopoly they have been granted from the court."
Teamsters Local 372, representing about 1,100 circulation and warehouse employees, voted 603 to 76 Sunday night to authorize the strike beginning 12:01 a.m. Thursday, said Al Derey, secretary-treasurer-elect of the local.
"It seems these corporations that had deep pockets for three years now suddenly have holes in their pockets," Derey said. "We asked for Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday and they turned us down flat. It's incredible."
The Newspaper Guild of editorial workers unanimously approved strike authorization late Sunday. The guild didn't set a strike deadline and members planned to be at work today, Mleczko said. About 250 members attended the meeting.
Both the News and Free Press reported that the union coalition was holding to its demand for weekly wage increases of $160 per worker over three years.
Management raised its counteroffer from $35.50 to $44 weekly over 2 1/2 years, sources told the newspapers. The unions also were offered a contract-signing bonus equal to two weeks' pay if the partial merger was implemented on schedule.
Another union, Graphics Communications International Local 13N, voted Sunday to accept management's money package offer but honor any other strikes, Mleczko said.
The three other unions involved, Teamsters Local 2040, Graphics Communication Local 289 and Communications Workers of America Local 18, were also meeting Sunday night.
Newsroom employees at both papers said they were working toward putting together their Monday editions as usual.
Under the joint operating agreement, the newspapers will merge their non-editorial operations but maintain separate news and editorial staffs.
The Free Press will continue publishing morning editions Monday through Friday. The News will continue publishing morning and afternoon editions but will halt home delivery of its morning edition in metropolitan Detroit.
The newspapers will publish combined weekend editions.