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What Are the Odds on a Newspaper Strike?

But events, at least, seemed to be strengthening the publishers' hand. After the Nixon Administration scrapped Phase 2 wage guidelines, there was some fear that in the absence of a clear limit, and in the presence of continuing inflation, the rank-and-file's expectations would soar, making it necessary for the union leaders to call a strike simply to prove they were in there trying. But it now seems at least as likely that the rank-and-file are more concerned with job security. (Among all the unions, only the I.T.U. has a strike fund built to last over long distances, and most of that is not in Big Six's grip but rather in the hands of the international leadership in Colorado Springs. Relations between the local and headquarters are strained.)

Even rumor seemed to be strengthening the publishers' case. There was the old rumor, now taken as fact, that oil millionaire John Shaheen is following through on plans to start a new afternoon paper. It would be almost entirely a non-union operation, and so technically sophisticated that Shaheen had plausible hopes of starting up with a staff of perhaps 100. The Post employs 1,200.

The unions had some rumors going for them, too. Newsday, it was said, was staffing up to bring copies from Long Island into midtown in large numbers in the event of a strike. (Publisher William Attwood flatly denied it.)

Another rumor had it that The Times and The News had determined to defy any picket line and try to break a strike' should one occur. One union leader claimed to know that exempt— that is, non-union—personnel from both papers were already in Orlando, Florida, like ballplayers in spring training, boning up on certain mechanical tasks, and that exempt secretaries were taking seven-day crash courses in essential routines in East Orange, New Jersey.

But on balance, the feeling seemed to be that the economic case to be made by the three surviving publishers was strong, that the radically changed universe of the New York newspaper business made that case stronger still, and that for the first time in living memory the unions seemed disposed—if not compelled—to at least listen to it. Their income statement aside, the surviving publishers never had it so good.

Unquoted in this report—indeed, unmentioned—is the leader of Local Six of the I.T.U., Bertram Powers. This is because, as best I can judge, everything you have previously read about him, good or bad, is true. But in addition to being exceedingly able, exceedingly bright, exceedingly rigid, and exceedingly excessive, the betting here goes that he is not indefinitely immune to facts, and that this time Powers will have to give something in order to get.

The last time I was wrong was in 1946, when I misread a Long Island Rail Road timetable and missed a train to Rockaway Park.


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