Teamsters members overwhelmingly approved a controversial five-year labor agreement with The Washington Star yesterday, becoming the first major union to accept a new contract in the newspaper's current round of intensive negotiations.
Members of Teamsters Local 639, which represents delivery truck drivers and other circulation workers at The Star, ratified the proposed contract by 130-to-29 vote in the face of the newspaper's Dec. 31 bargaining deadline. Time Inc., the publishing company that bought The Star earlier this year, has threatened to shut down the newspaper on New Year's Day unless new contracts are accepted by all 11 unions representing Star employes before then.
A Star spokesman said the newspaper's management would have no comment on yesterday's Teamsters vote.
Union leaders and rank-and-file members expressed bitter objections to some key provisions of the new contract, but they said they had approved it because The Star's threatened closing would put them out of work. "We're not happy with the contract," said Ronald L. Warren, business representative for Teamsters employes at The Star. "Basically the people voted for their jobs."
Much of the controversy surrounding the contract stems from provisions that would give The Star's management broader latitude to make changes in newspaper delivery routes and to hire nonunion workers would be known as "route builders." Union members describe these provisions as possible threats to unionization at The Star.
Warren said, however, that the union had also gained some concessions from The Star's management during negotiations. "We got a guarantee that no full-time (Teamsters) employes would lose their job," he said. Warren also noted that Local 639 may launch an organizing drive in an attempt to bring the "route builders" into union jurisdiction.
Union officials, moreover, said The Star had offered an acceptable pay package, providing for increases in weekly wages and fringe benefits amounting to $40 in the contract's first year, $39 in the second year and $40 in the third. Circulation route managers now earn a basic weekly salary of $289, according to the union, Warren said Loacl 639 members had voted to divert $10 of the first year's weekly raise to pay for improved health and welfare benefits.
Teamsters Local 639 is one of the two largest unions representing Star employes. The contract approved by Teamsters members yesterday would apply to nearly 300 Star route managers and other circulation employes.
Local 639 also includes two smaller Star units. One of these represents about 40 "jumpers," who carry newspapers from delivery trucks to vendors. The other represents more than 100 other drivers, loaders, paper handlers and other blue-collar workers. Warren said that wage proposals remain a key issue in negotiations over the two other Teamsters contracts at The Star.
Another large union at The Star is the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents about 75 news, advertising, clerical and other white-collar workers. Guild negotiators have reported considerable progress in their talks with management, which were recessed Thursday night and are scheduled to resume Tuesday. Guild officials said last week that they had hoped to reach a tentative contract agreement before Christmas, but that they had encountered unexpected obstacles that delayed the talks.
In a related development, a negotitating session took place Friday, according to union officials, between The Star's management and Columbia Typograhical Union No. 101, which represents about 175 printers. Union officials said the two sides were brought together at the request of a federal mediator, Gilbert S. McCutcheon.
According to union leaders, bargaining between the newspaper's management and the typographical union had been halted 10 days earlier amid wide disagreements centering on The Star's proposal to eliminate 80 printing jobs by next June and to reduce its printing staff to as few as 25 employes during the next five years. It was unclear yesterday whether progress had been made during the CTU's renewed talks with management.
While Teamsters Local 639 was the first union to announce approval of a new contract with The Star, union officials have said several small union are also close to settlements.