If you're sitting at your cubicle wasting time on a Monday morning reading this, count your lucky stars you're even allowed to be at work.
With two of their unions already locked out of work, The Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio locked out three more unions Sunday, affecting a total of 195 employees, increasing the number of affected employees from 18 to 213. So, a small increase.
The family-owned, Pulitzer Prize-winning Blade is in what is technically known as a financial pickle. The 135,000 daily circulation newspaper – one of many with dwindling circulation numbers – has been negotiating with the eight unions that comprise their workforce of about 600, with little to no luck.
So far The Blade's engravers, paper handlers, mailers, drop-off site deliverymen, and advertisement processors are all taking an unscheduled vacation this week – and perhaps longer.
A three-year deal, agreed upon back in 2003, included a wage freeze but expired back in March of this year. Since then, just one of the eight unions has signed a new deal – the electrical workers. This leaves two unions: the Toledo Newspaper Guild, representing the newsroom, ad reps, and circulation workers; and the Graphics Communication, which represents the pressmen. And if those two unions get locked out in the near future (they might), then, well, hey – at least the building will have electricity.
As a result of the lockouts, the Toledo Council of Newspaper Unions called for a boycott of The Blade, urging readers to cancel subscriptions and advertisers to pull ads.
Now, granted, I'm a stringer for the "other paper" in town – the Toledo Free Press, a weekly tabloid, which relies heavily on freelance reporting – and shouldn't get a sick thrill out of this crisis in the making. My firsthand knowledge of being in a union is non-existent, and I could be considered biased against The Blade administration for being part of the competition. We can all assume how I'd feel if next week's edition of the Free Press is 406 pages long, but this situation affects hundreds of jobs, and there is no thrill out of witnessing that.
The one curious aspect of these labor negotiations has been the commercials The Blade rolled out on local TV. They feature former Toledo television anchor Jeff Heitz speaking on behalf of The Blade administration. The logic spoken in these ads is that a Blade boycott, while intended to be a response to The Blade locking out employees, is actually an attack on the economic future of Toledo. Sort of reminds you of the schoolyard bully hitting a kid in the chest with his own fist. Stop boycotting yourself. Stop boycotting yourself.
This commercial indicated that the already ugly labor negotiations show no signs of becoming any prettier. Whether this situation devolves into a full blown strike, much like the fellow Ohio paper Youngstown Vindicator endured last year, remains to be seen.
Oh, that reminds me. I need to write my column for the Free Press.