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What Are the Odds on a Newspaper Strike?

Arthur S. has been humiliated on Wall Street, too. "You are soft," security analysts have said to his face. On the American Stock Exchange, the common shares of The New York Times Company have recently traded near their all-time low. Investors now pay just $12 or so to command one dollar of Times Company profits—a price-earnings ratio more appropriate to second-rate steel companies than first-class publishing empires.

Arthur S. carries on bravely, nevertheless, and maintains a cheerful outlook. The elimination of at least 80 job slots within the Newspaper Guild's jurisdiction in the past fourteen months was interpreted as "constructive" behavior by his peers, who take it as evidence of his essentially good character. He shaved one-eighth inch from the width of his newspaper. The difference is imperceptible to the reader and will be worth some $400,000 in paper saved this year. He has also acquired, at considerable expense, other businesses to lessen his dependence on newspaper profits.

As a result, the case of Arthur S. may no longer be one of terminal softness. But until the present negotiations are concluded, no one will know with certainty how "hard" he is—least of all, perhaps, Arthur S.

Case attested by the accounting firm of Haskins & Sells


[Case 102]
Tragic Victim

For the men who run The News, the last half-century has been a series of rude and undeserved surprises ending in tragic alienation.

Bad enough that despite the teachings of the newspaper's own editorial writers, who have slaved ceaselessly to show the irrelevance of labor unions in an age of enlightened capitalism, the unions themselves ungratefully refuse to wither and die of their own accord.

Worse, fellow publishers in town have shown an unseemly disposition to make peace with their unions by sacrificing principle.

Worst of all, out of necessity so has The News.

Spawned by The Chicago Tribune in 1919, and still controlled by that newspaper, The News made handsome profits for many years despite the immature behavior of its unions, whose leaders, in their incessant nagging for more money, showed no self-discipline.

But the rich days are over. Stuck with the same 15/11/11 wage formula The Times bought, The News today is not the moneymaker it was. One student of the newspaper business describes it as "better than a marginal operation, but not much better."

It has fallen to a 54-year-old executive named Winfield Henry (Tex) J. to lead The News in the present talks. Tex J. is caught between prudence and principle.

He has no choice but to negotiate with his craft unions through the Publishers' Association of New York. The alternative, to bargain independently without the support of his fellow publishers in a united front, is out of the question. It would allow the unions to pick off the papers one by one, whipsawing them, playing each one off against the others.

But to preserve their united front, the members of the Publishers' Association have had to adopt a rule of unanimity—all must agree on a bargaining position or there is no position.

In Tex J.'s view, those who know him say, the publishers have made disastrous compromises over the years to achieve unanimity. Throughout the past decade his fellow publishers were far readier than The News to scuttle principle in the name of expedience. These earlier deals, Tex J. fears, will prove to be embarrassing precedents standing in the way of desperately needed change—especially changes that must be wrung from the I.T.U.

In 1961, for example, the publishers agreed to reward Big Six for permitting the use of so-called "inside tape"—copy in the form of perforated paper ribbons produced within the newspaper's own plant and fed into typesetting machines. The tape sets copy faster than men at Linotype keyboards can. The reward was modest—one day off with pay for the I.T.U. cardholders covered. And it was only The Times's problem since only The Times was using inside tape in those days. But it was an opening wedge in what was later to become the can of worms known as the "automation issue."

In 1965, the publishers rewarded I.T.U. for permitting the use of "outside tape" as well—stock market tables, specifically, supplied in punched tape form by the wire agencies. I.T.U.'s share was 100 per cent of the direct savings. (The publishers benefited by other savings made possible by the tape—faster closes at deadline, to name one.) Even the amount of tape a publisher may use is now subject to negotiation with the printers' union. A special fund was set up to receive the payments called for. This provided a precedent for Big Six's sharing directly in productivity gains (as distinct from indirectly, through wage clauses).


Related:

  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Mar 26, 1973 issue of New York