Striking New York pressmen reached a tentative agreement yesterday to end their 84-day walkout at The New York Times and Daily News. The papers said they hope to resume publication by Sunday.
Before the presses can roll again, rank-and-file pressmen must ratify the negotiated pact and the papers must settle with several other unions, including drivers, paperhandlers and machinists.
Sources said the major remaining hurdle is negotiations with the drivers, whose support for the pressmen three-month strike. The pressmen will not hold a ratification vote until the drivers, who were bargaining late yesterday, reach a tentative settlement.
Theodore H. Kheel, the unofficial mediator in the pressmen's talks, was optimistic that the strike is all but over. "There is no way that the tentative agreement can fall apart," he said when the settlement was announced yesterday morning after a 1-hour negotiating session.
While bargainers for both publishers and pressman said there were no winners in the long, bitter dispute, the proposed six-year accord was reached only after the papers made some major concessions in their demands for pressroom work force reductions.
The union agreed to let the papers reduce staffing through attrition, but the papers guaranteed jobs through 1984 for all 1,508 pressmen now on the union's rolls at the three major Manhattan dailies.
The publishers won the right to offer pressmen monetary inducements to retire early, thereby hastening job reduction through attrition, but the union succeeded in retaining the concept of unit manning, under which a fixed number of pressmen are assigned to each machine. The publishers had wanted a more flexible room manning procedure that would give more discretion to supervisors.
A Daily News executive estimated that the contract would lead to a one-third reduction in the paper's pressroom work force by 1984 but said no figures were available on overall labor cost savings.
Still to be determined are manning formulas for junior-level pressmen, which both sides agreed last week to turn over to an outside expert. It is here that the publishers are hoping to achieve the greatest cutbacks. For more experienced journeymen, the negotiated cutback was only from 12 to 11 workers on a typical press.
The proposed settlement appeared to minimize, if not reverse, a series of union losses in the newspaper industry that climaxed in elimination of the pressmen's union from The Washington Post during a strike three years ago.
"It means we didn't have a Washington Post in New York," said pressmen's union president William Kennedy in commenting on the contrast between the outcomes of the two disputes.
The New York strike began Aug. 9 when the three Manhattan dailies - The Times, Daily News and New York Post - unilaterally posted new work rules that drastically reduced manning requirements. The pressmen struck all three papers and other unions honored their picket lines, shutting the papers down and idling more than 10,000 workers.
The New York Post resumed publication Oct. 5 when its publisher, Rupert Murdoch, broke with his fellow newspaper executives and signed a "me-too" contract with the pressmen, leaving the knotty issues to be settled by the other papers.
Since then, Murdoch, operating in a newspaper vacuum only partially filled by interim strike-born papers has fattened the afternoon Post, added a 300-plus-page Sunday edition and announced plans for a new morning tabloid - although its launching was torpedoed, perhaps permanently, by union difficulties.
While the manning and job security issures dominated the bargaining, the settlement also calls for wage increases of $63 a week over three years, with the wage clause to be reopened in 1981. The first-year increase of $23 weekly appears to fall withing the administration's 7 percent wage-benefits guideline.
There was no immediate accounting of the net financial losses to the newspapers, but they clearly had faced greater losses as the holiday advertising season approached with only Murdoch's Post to capitalize on a market of 3 million readers and more than $1 million daily in advertising and circulation revenues normaly shared by the three papers.
"We arrived at a just and equitable settlement," said Kennedy when the agreement was announced. "There are no winners in a strike this long."
Said Walter Mattson, executive vice precident and general manager of The Times: "The publishers are also delighted. We feel the conclusion was reached with good feeling. We are embarking on a new era as far as our labor relations is concerned. There were no winners."