The New York Times and Daily News prepared last night to publish Monday editions, their first in 89 days, as striking unions withdrew their picket lines and sanctioned a return to work.
The last obstacle to a resumption of publication by the city's two major dailies was apparently cleared when the Newspaper Guild, which struck The Times late Saturday, withdrew its pickets in the face of a back-to-work stampede by the other unions.
Both the Guild, which represents editorial and commercial employes, and the Alied Printing Trades Council, the umbrella group representing newspaper craft unions, asked their members to return to work in time to get out the Monday papers.
Officials of both papers said most employes were returning to work.
"There is going to be a paper tomorrow," said John Pomfret, spokesman for The Times. "The ads and the newsroom have been prepared all weekend," said Jonathan Thompson, spokesman for the Daily News. "They're ready to go."
"We're glad it's over," said George McDonald, chairman of the craft union group.
The 88-day strike was all but resolved last week when the publishers made some major concessions in their demands for pressroom workforce reductions that triggered a walkout Aug. 9 by 1,500 pressmen. The strike combines circulation of more than 3 million, until the New York Post settled independently and resumed publication Oct. 5.
The union agreed to let the papers reduce staffing through attrition and offer monetary inducements for early retirement, but the publishers had to guarantee jobs for all 1,500 pressmen through 1984 and keep some of the manning restrictions they wanted to abandon. In the crucial area of junior pressmen, where the greatest cut-backs were sought, a fact-finder will determine staffing levels-a concession made by the pressmen under pressure from other unions.
Unexpected hitches developed in wind-up negotiations with other unions, principally with the Guild, which claimed The Times was demanding union concessions in excess of those won by the Daily News Guild unit last June. The Times contended the two pacts were comparable.
The Times Guild unit threw up picket lines at Times plants Saturday night but withdrew them yesterday afternoon after deciding to submit a proposed settlement drafted in part by mediator Theodore H. Kheel to the unit's members. The meeting was scheduled for late last night.
The Times was planning a 96-page paper, including nine pages summarizing what happened to the world in the last 88 days. The Daily News, the nation's largest circulation paper, was gearing up for a 192-page paper and planning to print as many of its usual 2.2 million copies as possible after having to forgo its first edition.
Meanwhile, the paperhandlers and stereotypers reached tentative agreements early yesterday. The craft unions were holding ratification votes last yesterday, and union officials said they expected no troubles.
All the 10 craft contracts call for a weekly pay increase of $68 over three years, including a $23 rise for this year that falls within the administration's 7 percent anti-inflation guideline. The wage clause of the six-year contract would be reopened after three years.
The strike-the first to shut down New York's newspapers since a 114-day walkout in 1962-63-was a classic confrontation between management's push to cut costs by taking advantage of technological advances and labor's resistance to the resulting loss of jobs.
On the surface, it was also another of those periodic off-Broadway dramas about how New Yorkers survive in the face of adversities ranging from power blackouts to garbage backups-accomplished, as usual, with crotchety ingenuity.
And behind the scenes a battle raged within the self-acclaimed media capital of the world: clandestine meetings and reputed conspiracies, publishers gouging publishers, unions plotting against unions and the prize for chutzpah going to a 47-year-old Australian who became-for a time at least-the press czar of New York City.
The strike began Aug. 9 when New York's three major dailies climaxed months of fruitless bargaining with the 1,500 unionized pressmen by unilaterally posting new labor-cutting work rules, automatically triggering a walkout honored by other unions, roughly 10,000 workers in all.
Talks droned on for nearly two months, with no results. Then, on Oct. 5, the New York Post, financially weaker than The Times and Daily News and led by publisher Rupert Murdoch, the maverick Australian-born newspaper collector, made a separate settlement with the striking unions and resumed publication.
It was a "me-too" agreement, leaving the tough job protection and work rule issues to be resolved by the other papers. But meanwhile Murdoch's cash registers were whirring, reaping the rewards of the paper's temporary monopoly status among established dailies.
The Times and Daily News had collectively lost an estimated $75 million in gross advertising and circulation revenues when the Post resumed publication, and losses threatened to grow progressively larger as the calendar edged toward the lucrative holiday advertising season. Meanwhile, Murdoch's Post grew fatter and fatter adding a Sunday edition of more than 300 pages and planning a cut-rate morning tabloid to compete with the News.
As negotiations between the pressmen and strike-bound Times and News sputtered through the strike's third month, the issue remained-as it was from the start-the publishers' demand for more flexible manning and scheduling rules, meaning fewer jobs.
More than coffee breaks and convenience was at stake. Both sides said it was survival.
For the publishers, it was survival in the sense of financial ability to compete against less "feather-bedded" suburban dailies for readership and advertising dollars already eroded by television.
For the union, it was a projected loss of half their existing 1,500 jobs (the publishers say the reduction they were seeking was more like one-third) and a comparable diminution of the union's economic and political clout.
The issue was neither new nor unique to New York newspapers.
It has figured in newspaper strikes from coast to coast and was central to the 1975 dispute at The Washington Post that resulted in elimination of the pressmen's union from The Post.
Job-reducing automation has touched almost every industry, prompting trade-offs that entail expensive income and benefit guarantees for current workers but fewer jobs in the future.
Along with other pressures, the automation struggle has contributed to what observes describe as a general hardening of labor-management relations, epitomized by industry efforts to take back long-standing work rules that unions often see as their last line of defense against extinction.
Moreover, many believe the struggle will intensify as successive waves of sophisticated technology roll over American industry and its often anti-quated work practice.
In the case of the New York dispute, the publishers sought a drastic reversal of what they regard as massive featherbedding of their presses achieved through decades of collective bargaining that gave the union virtual control over who works when and how.
Management proposed more flexible manning and scheduling requirements aimed at providing only enough workers to do the job, as few as 700 or 800 of the 1,500 now on the union's rolls. They said this was necessary to meet the competition from suburban dailies such as Long Island's Newsday and New Jersey's Newark Star-Ledger, which have less generous manning standards.
The pressmen's union countered that new and more sophisticated presses demand more jobs, not fewer, and, refused to give ground despite restiveness among other unions, some of which threatened periodically to bolt and return to work.
The manning issue resisted compromise to the last, and the only way to get it off the table was to let an outside expert come up with a binding staffing formula for junior-level pressmen, which won agreement from both sides Oct. 27. Pressure from other unions on the pressmen was reportedly decisive in reaching the compromise.
Murdoch, who lost an estimated $8 million-to-10 million in his first year at the helm of the Post despite circulatino gains, personnel cuts and a sensationalizing of the paper's format, had been made head of the tripartite Publishers Association in an apparent effort to keep his free-wheeling instincts in check.
But Murdoch, after some undisclosed meetings between his brother publishers and Kheel led him to conclude that a secret deal was being hatched against his interests, stalked out of the talks and made a separate deal.