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It's not over till...

For five years, locked-out Detroit Newspaper workers have been telling the public that the labor dispute between the unions and management is not over and urging them to boycott the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. Well, after the ruling the U.S. Court of Appeals issued last week, News Hits begrudgingly admits the legal wrangling – at least – is probably over.

The court practically nailed the coffin shut when it overturned a previous decision by the National Labor Relations Board.

The NLRB ruled that the newspapers were guilty of an unfair labor practice when the Detroit News imposed a "merit pay" plan during negotiations, to which the unions responded by striking July 13, 1995. Under such a plan, management could dictate whether employees would get a raise or not and the amount, rather than bargaining with the union.

The newspapers took that NLRB decision to the appeals court and a panel of three judges – very conservative Reagan appointees – said that the NLRB had been "unreasonable" and ruled in favor of the dailies and their joint operating body, Detroit Newspapers.

So, what’s left? That depends on who is talking.

Tim Kelleher, vice president of labor relations for Detroit Newspapers, says that the newspapers hope to continue negotiating with the unions and "bring closure to this whole period."

But the Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions officials say they will ask the full Court of Appeals (11 judges in all) to rehear their case. And if that doesn’t work, there is always the U.S. Supreme Court. But the chance of either court getting involved appears slight.

Council officials responded to the appellate court’s ruling at a somber press conference last week.

"Today is a sad day for people who work at the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and its joint agency, Detroit Newspapers," said Lou Mleczko, president of the Newspaper Guild Local 22.

Union supporters, including the Rev. Ed Rowe from Central United Methodist Church and Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Maryann Mahaffey, attended the press conference.

"This is an ideological decision," said Mahaffey to News Hits about the appellate court’s ruling. "I think it’s imperative that the boycott continue and that we let everyone know these are union-busting papers."

Mahaffey was not the only one to say this. The newspaper unions also ask that the community continue to boycott the papers until fair contracts are negotiated. News Hits agrees. It may be over in the courts, but not in the streets. In fact, don’t expect the unions to let the five-year strike anniversary date pass without notice.

On July 13, several people will run the 18.5 miles from the newspaper printing plant in Sterling Heights at 16 Mile and Mound Road to the Detroit Free Press/Detroit News building downtown. A rally will also be held at the printing plant at noon and another one downtown at about 4:30 when the runners arrive.

For these tried-and-true trade unionists, it’s still not over.

News Hits is edited by W. Kim Heron. He can be reached by phone at 313-202-8004 or via e-mail

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