Newspaper Guild officials Friday called for a subscription boycott of the San Diego Union and Tribune to protest the lack of progress in a lengthy contract dispute with the newspaper company.
The call for subscription cancellations came during a noisy noontime rally in a Stardust Hotel banquet room, where several speakers, including Hollywood celebrity Ed Asner and United Farm Workers President Cesar Chavez, verbally attacked Union-Tribune publisher Helen Copley.
About 15 labor unions were represented at the event. The speakers included San Diego City Councilman Bob Filner, Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista) and Joe Francis, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.
The guild hopes to pressure the company into new contract negotiations by mounting a massive subscription cancellation. Local union leaders say about 100,000 families in San Diego County have at least one union member, and they will try to persuade at least 10,000 families to cancel their subscriptions.
The guild represents about 1,150 Union-Tribune employees, including reporters, photographers and advertising and circulation workers. Guild members have not had a pay raise since December, 1987.
On Friday, speaker after speaker blamed Copley for the labor dispute, which has dragged on for almost two years. The angry, sometimes bitter, rhetoric marked an escalation in the frustration of guild members and their supporters in their attempt to negotiate a new contract.
The comments of Assemblyman Peter Chacon (D-San Diego) were typical of what the overflow crowd heard during the two-hour rally.
“She reflects the worst in our society, the greed that is found in corporate America. She personifies it very strongly,” Chacon said of Copley.
San Diego Newspaper Guild President Ed Jahn characterized Copley as a “67-year-old woman, daughter of a railroad signalman” who worked as a secretary in the paper’s administrative office, married former Publisher James S. Copley and forgot the needs of a working family.
“The needs of a working family didn’t rub off on her. . . . She met the publisher of the newspaper, a very rich person, and that rubbed off on her,” Jahn said.
Peace, like Chacon, not a favorite of the Union-Tribune, urged Mayor Maureen O’Connor to intervene in the labor dispute. Noting the favorable treatment that the mayor often receives on the two papers’ editorial pages, Peace said: “I don’t know what she (O’Connor) has to say about (the dispute). But she certainly has had some editorial influence in the past.”
Copley did not respond to an interview request. Instead, the company released a written statement by Herbert G. Klein, editor-in-chief of Copley Newspapers.
“Outside, professional agitators may create media excitement, but their political barbs are not relevant to serious labor negotiations. I do not believe San Diegans feel they require advice from labor politicians as to what they should read or how they should react to these complex negotiations,” the statement said.
Later, in a telephone interview from Montreal, Klein decried the personal attacks on Copley.
“It’s obvious that most of those who spoke have no idea what the issues involved are. Nor do they understand the very personal effort which has been made by Helen Copley to develop these newspapers and the jobs they provide, in a manner which reaps great credit to San Diego,” Klein said.
Jim Griffin, an International Newspaper Guild representative, said he is optimistic that a strike will be averted. Griffin, who is involved in the bargaining talks, said there are “five major issues left to negotiate.”
“The two big ones are the duration of the contract and job security. . . . If we can resolve these major issues, we can have a contract,” Griffin said.
Griffin said the company insists on a one-year contract and wants circulation district managers to use their own vehicles on the job. The guild has consistently rejected both demands.
Asner, a former president of the Screen Actors Guild, urged union members not to bargain away some jobs in order to get a contract. Chavez endorsed the subscription boycott and told the crowd that “workers are worth more than the . . . subscriptions.”