Eight out of the 10 unions at the New York Daily News went on strike Thursday night over a labor grievance that had sparked violence during a truck drivers' walkout earlier in the day.
The action climaxed a bitter, month-long standoff between the money-losing tabloid and its unions, which have been without a contract for six months as they have resisted the News' demands for work-rule changes and wage cuts worth at least $50 million a year.
It was unclear whether the newspaper would be able to print an edition this morning, despite management's contingency plans for a strike.
Picket lines went up outside the newspaper's Manhattan office and its three outlying printing plants. Police in riot gear patrolled the areas to prevent a recurrence of the violence. The scene at the Brooklyn printing plant was described by one observer as "very tense."
The drivers' union was first to strike. Their action was to protest the replacement of drivers by about 60 non-union substitutes following the walkout early in the day, which had begun when a driver at the Brooklyn plant refused to abide by a supervisor's order to work standing up. The driver contended that a disability entitled him to perform the work sitting down.
Seven of the newspaper's 10 unions followed the drivers' lead, said George McDonald, head of the Allied Printing Trades Council, the umbrella group for the unions. A ninth union, the Newspaper Guild, said it would honor the picket lines.
The 10th union, the typographical union, had said it would not strike because it has lifetime-guaranteed jobs for its 200 members.
About 1,000 workers are on strike. The Newspaper Guild, whose members planned to meet today, has about 800 members.
When the drivers first walked out of the Brooklyn plant about 2:30 a.m. Thursday, management declared the walkout a strike and announced that the paper would begin hiring the specially trained replacement drivers.
According to the company, roughly 200 drivers then attacked vehicles at the plant, burning two delivery trucks and damaging about 40 others by puncturing tires and poking holes in radiators. Police said two workers were cited.
Representatives of the Allied Printing Trades Council met with management Thursday afternoon at the Daily News headquarters. But management turned down the unions' request that the company put all 200 workers on the payroll.
A Daily News spokeswoman said it was "unfortunate" that the violence came while the intermittent contract talks continued.
Early Thursday evening, union officials said they planned to have the drivers show up at the plant for their regular shifts. However, when the shift began at 9 p.m., the drivers appeared at the Brooklyn facility but did not enter it.
"We're at the bridge," said Michael Alvino, the drivers' union president. "We're officially on strike for unfair labor practices."
He insisted that the walkout earlier in the day had been forced when the printing plant supervisor "pushed the drivers out by firing . . . somebody who was crippled on the job."
The Daily News has been training members of management and others for two years in how to operate the plant in the event of a strike, and officials of the company had vowed that they would have no trouble continuing production in the event of a full or partial strike.
The unions' strategy had been to try to avoid a strike that would force the issue. And some members of management--and the unions--said Thursday that the drivers union may have blundered into a test of strength.
"The union screwed up," said a Daily News manager, who asked to remain unidentified. "They did what the company wanted them to do."
The News is the nation's second-largest metropolitan daily newspaper, with a circulation of 1.18 million. Last year it nearly broke even, but over the past decade it has lost $115 million and watched circulation fall by 700,000.
The strike at the News could provide a major boost to other New York papers, including the loss-soaked New York Post, and New York Newsday, the city edition of the big Long Island daily. Newsday is owned by Times Mirror Co., publisher of the Los Angeles Times.
The Post said it planned to boost Friday's press run by as much as 50% over the usual 600,000 copies. But Jerry Nachman, the Post's editor, insisted that the added production was not entirely because of the News' potential problem; the Post had planned to increase its run by 30% because of Thursday night's heavyweight championship bout, Nachman said.