At approximately 6:45 p.m. Thursday, the rank and file of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia voted almost unanimously to authorize an Inquirer/Daily News strike. Just to be clear, this does not mean a work stoppage has commenced, it merely means the Guild membership has given the negotiators what most inside 400 North Broad agree would be “the nuclear option.” The Guild’s contract expires October 31st.
“I was just talking to one of the editors today and we both agreed that it would be mutual suicide,” says a Guild member who asked to remain anonymous. “Nobody on either side wants this.” The only nay-sayer to speak publicly at the Guild meeting warned his fellow union members that the strike option was the path to mutual assured destruction, that it could cause irreparable damage to the Inky/DN revenue model which relies heavily on the lucrative fourth quarter when ad spending balloons during the holidays.
Layoffs is one of the major sticking points in the negotiations between the Guild and Philadelphia Media Holdings (PMH), which owns the Inquirer and Daily News. Servicing a $350 million debt and facing the loss of a fourth quarter cash cow, i.e. Strawbridge, PMH needs to cut expenses — and possibly as many as 50 employees, though it’s unclear how many would come from each newsroom. And when it comes time to cut, the Company wants to pick who stays and who goes. The Guild is insisting on the seniority rule, wherein the last hired is the first fired. It’s also believed that the cuts would affect the Inquirer’s staff of suburban news and sports reporters first, leaving the Inquirer without boots on the ground in the leafy green loci of most of their readers and advertisers (and many of its own employees). Would this leave the reporters who escaped the axe, the ones with decades of seniority, facing reassignment to the suburbs while the Daily News becomes the city’s newspaper?
Management has called a meeting for 2 p.m. to discuss contingency plans in the event of a strike. The worst case scenario would have management back out on the floor, reporting and writing the paper, a position some have not found themselves in for decades. Which brings us to the question of what happens if the truck drivers’ union strikes in solidarity, effectively leaving both paper without a delivery system. The only forseeable solution is a paperless newspaper, with both the Inquirer and Daily News publishing online-only editions.
THIS JUST IN FROM A READER IN THE KNOW: “All there are today are rumors…one rumor of a possible guild sickout on monday, another that IF they strike, the guild will publish an online strike paper. IF there’s a strike, it’s expected that the teamsters would honor the picket line and the managements of both papers would combine to publish online, but I’m wondering whose banner it would be under, the DN or the Inky? it’s a world of ifs. From what i gather, the atmosphere is that everybody acknowledges that the layoffs are coming, strike or no strike. the only question is going to be HOW the ax falls, by seniority or by managements’ discretion.”