"I love what I'm doing, I love printing," said Virgil Cashwell, 59. "I've been doing it since I was 16 years old. ... Now you take the hectic part, when the makeup editor says, 'Let's do it and get it together!' That's when I love it...."
In the fierce rhythm of daily journalism, Cashwell and his 180 brother printers at The Washington Star have played a key part in the production process, transforming the words of reporters into lead type or pages of pasted-up "cold type" used to manufacture the newspapers.
Advances in technology have now made much of their work unnecessary, however, and Cashwell and 79 other Star printers must give up their jobs as part of a labor agreement that has enabled the financially troubled paper to continue publishing.
"I probably would have worked another couple years withoug this turmoil," said Cashowell, who lives with his wife in suburban Maryland. Now he said he will go into retirement in three months, on his 60th birthday, when his Star pension will be just "a little better" than it is now.
Star management was ebullient yesterday after the paper resumed publishing after a one-day suspension that followed a traumatic weekend of labor negotiations.
"We are here to stay," proclaimed an editorial in yesterday's editions. Time Inc., which bought The Star last year, had threatened to close the peper permanently on New Year's Day unless long-term agreements were reached with 11 labor unions by then.
The printers' union -- Columbia Typographical Union No. 101, of which Cashwell is a member -- was the last union to arrive at an agreement with management in 11th-hour bargaining that involved federal mediators and a federal judge.
"The Star's available resources can hendeforth he concentrated on those things which make a newspaper great," Star chairman James R. Shepley said in a front-page message to readers yesterday. "... In the final analysis all of the newspaper's employes and their union leaders are to be congratulated for their willingness to re-examine established practices and consider new approaches."
The question of replacing workers with new technology is an issue at major publications across the country. The unions have resisted strongly, but are gradually losing the battle.
At The Star, each of the 80 printers who must leave by June under terms of the agreement will reecive a one-time $40,000 "buyout" from the paper.
Forty printers must leave by Jan. 10, and then 10 a month after that until 80 are gone, Star publisher George W. Hoyt said in an interview yesterday.
Yesterday afternoon in The Star's composing room, where the printers work, Cashwell and a few others moved quietly about among the printing machines and the long rows of drawing boards where the pages of the newspaper are prepared.
"The printing trade is dead. It's dying," said Eddie Crays, a prineter who sat behind a desk in the room yesterday. "This automation is wiping everybody out. You work at a place for years, then they bring a machine in and throw you out. They don't care whether you got a family or not. You're not an employe any more. You're a dollar sign."
Crays said he plans to stay. He said he has been at The Star 15 years, learned the trade there. "I don't know anything else.... I've got to stay. I've got a family out there."
Crays said that "70-some" of the printers have voluntarily agreed to quit and take the "buyout." "It's completely voluntary," he said. "Nobody's pointing the finger at anyone."
By the time taxes, social security and union dues are taken out of a $40,000 "buyout," Crays said, there may be only about $25,000 left -- "one year's wages. What good is that? A man's got three kids, a wife, a house with a mortgage....
"I can't speak for everybody, but I'm sick. It's a hell of a thing to go down and see 80 people you've worked woth for 10 or 15 years who have to quit their jobs so a few others can keep theirs. "It's a hell of a thing..."
Crays said that some who acceped the "buyouts" are 35-to 40-year-olds who "figured they're still a little young, they'd try to find another job."
Cashwell, who sid he does not tbink the $40,000 will go very far in helping him survive inflationary times on a retirement income, spoke with emotion of his love for the printing trade.
He came to Washington in 1935 as a 16-year-old and took a job for $3 a week in a Georgetown pring shop where he learned the trade. Wentywhere he learned the trade. Twentytwo years ago, he wnet to work for The Star.
In those days, the printers operated Linotype machines that cast molten lead into lines of type and some sizes of headlines. Other printers gathered the lines of type making up each article and arranged them to form newspaper pages. These "page forms" then were put through other processes to make plates that could be put on the presses to produce the newspaper.
As the deadline neared, the printer's work grew furious. With enormous skill he would fling the trpe into the form, slapping at it and making the whole fit together. He could read the type upside-down and backward, and keep his head amid the cacophony of shouted commands.
With the advent of computer typesetting and automation at The Star in the early 1970s, however, the need for these skills all but disappeared. Now the computers set type that comes out in printed form just as it will appear in the paper. All that needs to ber done is to trim it and pasts it in the design that will appear as a newspaper page.
"Hot lead, yes," said Cashwell. "When that went out, that's when we lost all our -- I don't like to use the word -- power, our influence. When other people could do what I could do, easily...
"When I was a hot-metal printer I had something that most other people couldn't just walk in off the street and do. With this cold type, anyone can learn to do it in a short course."