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Newspaper contract wars have been making news around the...

By KATE CALLEN

SAN DIEGO -- Newspaper contract wars have been making news around the country and the stories have a common theme: A small Tennessee law firm is teaching the industry how to play hardball with labor unions.

The San Diego Union and Tribune, which reached a bitter settlement with its workers this spring, are clients of the law firm of King & Ballow. So are the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where talks with five unions are stalled, and the New York Daily News, now in the throes of the most important negotiations in its history.

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Over the past decade, the 48-lawyer Nashville firm arguably has become the most sought after management negotiator in the newspaper industry -- and has come to be regarded as a merciless foe by union officials.

'They have a horrible reputation,' said Barry Lipton, president of The Newspaper Guild of New York, where contract talks at the Daily News began in March. 'They're not hired to negotiate. They're hired to bust unions.'

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In San Diego, employees at the Union-Tribune Publishing Co. blamed King & Ballow for prolonging their two-year standoff with publisher Helen Copley. 'Robert Ballow ... is the architect of this tragic war between Union-Tribune managers and their employers,' said a San Diego Newspaper Guild bulletin to members.

Rancorous labor disputes are nothing new for clients of King & Ballow, which has handled contract talks for hundreds of newspapers since Frank King and Robert Ballow (pronounced bah-lou) formed their partnership in 1969.

Those disputes include a 1978 strike at the Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich., that lasted 18 months; multi-year strikes involving 1,000 Chicago Tribune workers in the mid-1980s; a four-month byline strike and union-led subscription and advertising boycotts at the two San Diego newspapers last year.

'They simply refuse to bargain,' said Jerry Minkkinen of The Chicago Newspaper Guild. 'They come to the table with proposals that are unacceptable, They know they're unacceptable and they insist on them anyway.'

But others see the Tennessee lawyers as leaders of a long-overdue management revolution in the newspaper industry, a revolution that came about when publishers began experiencing higher costs, rapid technological changes, more competition for advertising revenue and smaller profits.

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Executives at King & Ballow's clients deny the firm is hired to bust unions. They say King & Ballow is sought for its experience and knowledge of the industry, which gives management leverage in an arena traditionally dominated by union officials.

At the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, one of King & Ballow's oldest clients, Senior Vice President Luther Adkins said, 'These attorneys travel around the country, they know what's common practice elsewhere in the trade and this puts us on a mutual footing with union representatives.'

Herbert Klein, editor in chief of the Union-Tribune Publishing Co. in San Diego, said the newspaper company hired its first outside negotiator because 'we felt it was time we tried to regain some of the management rights we need to manage this company. And King & Ballow has a reputation for returning those rights to publishers.'

For nearly two decades, publishers who once routinely renewed previous labor contracts have turned to King & Ballow as negotiators. On the publishers' behalf, the lawyers have taken a tough stand with union representatives.

One-year contracts are offered in lieu of previous three-year contracts. Union decertification and 'management control' become bargaining points. Lifetime job security, retroactive pay and other givens are no longer givens; workers have to negotiate for items they had come to expect.

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And, just as talks are getting under way, management begins preparing for a strike in ways some of their staff say are intentionally provocative.

Executives, tutored by King & Ballow, practice putting out strike editions. Applicants answering ads for strike replacement workers are interviewed in public areas in full view of current employees.

Such tactics have whittled away at labor's foothold in the industry. Unions were decertified at the Houston Chronicle, the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader in Pennsylvania, the Austin American-Statesman in Texas and the Hopewell News in Virginia. Unions at other papers, including the two San Diego dailies, wound up accepting open-shop, no-strike contracts.NEWLN:------

King & Ballow's victories have occurred at a time when organized labor is on the ropes, when the percentage of American workers holding union cards in all industries has dropped from 35 percent in 1954 to 17 percent today.

Union representation in the newspaper industry has remained constant, as evidenced by nationwide membership in The Newspaper Guild, the union that represents the highest number of newspaper employees, which rose from 30,000 in 1958 to 33,000 this year, an increase of 10 percent.

But employment has jumped dramatically. Although numbers are not available for different industry segments, the total number of workers employed by newspapers has risen from 325,200 in 1960 to 477,600 in 1989, an increase of more than 43 percent, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Advertisement

Newspaper contract wars have been making news around the country and the stories have a common theme: A small Tennessee law firm is teaching the industry how to play hardball with labor unions.

The San Diego Union and The San Diego Tribune, which reached a bitter settlement with its workers this spring, are clients of the law firm of King & Ballow. So are the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where talks with five unions are stalled, and the New York Daily News, now in the throes of the most important negotiations in its history.

Over the past decade, the 48-lawyer Nashville firm arguably has become the most sought after management negotiator in the newspaper industry -- and has come to be regarded as a merciless foe by union officials.

'They have a horrible reputation,' said Barry Lipton, president of The Newspaper Guild of New York, where contract talks at the Daily News began in March. 'They're not hired to negotiate. They're hired to bust unions.'

In San Diego, employees at the Union-Tribune Publishing Co. blamed King & Ballow for prolonging their two-year standoff with publisher Helen Copley. 'Robert Ballow ... is the architect of this tragic war between Union-Tribune managers and their employers,' said a San Diego Newspaper Guild bulletin to members.

Advertisement

Rancorous labor disputes are nothing new for clients of King & Ballow, which has handled contract talks for hundreds of newspapers since Frank King and Robert Ballow (pronounced bah-lou) formed their partnership in 1969.

Those disputes include a 1978 strike at the Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich., that lasted 18 months; multi-year strikes involving 1,000 Chicago Tribune workers in the mid-1980s; a four-month byline strike and union-led subscription and advertising boycotts at the two San Diego newspapers last year.

'They simply refuse to bargain,' said Jerry Minkkinen of The Chicago Newspaper Guild. 'They come to the table with proposals that are unacceptable, They know they're unacceptable and they insist on them anyway.'

But others see the Tennessee lawyers as leaders of a long-overdue management revolution in the newspaper industry, a revolution that came about when publishers began experiencing higher costs, rapid technological changes, more competition for advertising revenue and smaller profits.

Executives at King & Ballow's clients deny the firm is hired to bust unions. They say King & Ballow is sought for its experience and knowledge of the industry, which gives management leverage in an arena traditionally dominated by union officials.

At the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, one of King & Ballow's oldest clients, Senior Vice President Luther Adkins said, 'These attorneys travel around the country, they know what's common practice elsewhere in the trade and this puts us on a mutual footing with union representatives.'

Advertisement

Herbert Klein, editor in chief of the Union-Tribune Publishing Co. in San Diego, said the newspaper company hired its first outside negotiator because 'we felt it was time we tried to regain some of the management rights we need to manage this company. And King & Ballow has a reputation for returning those rights to publishers.'

For nearly two decades, publishers who once routinely renewed previous labor contracts have turned to King & Ballow as negotiators. On the publishers' behalf, the lawyers have taken a tough stand with union representatives.

One-year contracts are offered in lieu of previous three-year contracts. Union decertification and 'management control' become bargaining points. Lifetime job security, retroactive pay and other givens are no longer givens; workers have to negotiate for items they had come to expect.

And, just as talks are getting under way, management begins preparing for a strike in ways some of their staff say are intentionally provocative.

Executives, tutored by King & Ballow, practice putting out strike editions. Applicants answering ads for strike replacement workers are interviewed in public areas in full view of current employees.

Such tactics have whittled away at labor's foothold in the industry. Unions were decertified at the Houston Chronicle, the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader in Pennsylvania, the Austin American-Statesman in Texas and the Hopewell News in Virginia. Unions at other papers, including the two San Diego dailies, wound up accepting open-shop, no-strike contracts.NEWLN:------

Advertisement

King & Ballow's victories have occurred at a time when organized labor is on the ropes, when the percentage of American workers holding union cards in all industries has dropped from 35 percent in 1954 to 17 percent today.

Union representation in the newspaper industry has remained constant, as evidenced by nationwide membership in The Newspaper Guild, the union that represents the highest number of newspaper employees, which rose from 30,000 in 1958 to 33,000 this year, an increase of 10 percent.

But employment has jumped dramatically. Although numbers are not available for different industry segments, the total number of workers employed by newspapers has risen from 325,200 in 1960 to 477,600 in 1989, an increase of more than 43 percent, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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