The Washington Star announced last night that it would resume publication today after negotiators for the newspaper and it sprinters union overcame 11th-hour obstacles that had temporarily blocked a labor agreement.
"We're in business," Star Publisher George W. Hoyt said last night as Star and union leaders revealed the final accord. The Star had canceled its holiday editions yesterday because a new contract between the newspaper and the printers union had not been finally agreed on.
William J. Boraman, the printers union president said, "I'm glad that we have a countract and that Washington will be a two-newspaper town." Despite union leaders' relief at reaching compromise settlement, some printers' union officals and members expressed bitterness because, they said, the new contract would markedly reduce the unions's would marked-influnce at the newspaper.
Time Itc., the pulishing company that bought The Star last year from Texas businessman Joe L. Allbritton for about $28 Million had threatened to shut down the newspaper permanently ysterday unless severelymodified new five-year contracts were reached with alkl 11 unions represneting 1,270 full-time Star employes. The printers union -- Columbai Typographical Union No. 101, which represents about 175 to 185 Star Employes -- was the last to complete an agreement.
Since last week, The Star's future had hung in the balance, as union leaders, Star officials federal mediators, teams of lawyers and a federal judge maneuvered to arrange settlements and keep the newspaper alive in th face of Time Inc.'s threat to abandon it.
The New Year's weekend was consumed in all-night negotiations and daylong courtroon battles. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction designed to prohibit The Star from closing; then the judge, Charles R. Richey, temporarily suspended his order as prospects of negotiating breakthroughs emerged.The Star annkunced plans to declare bankruptcy, but later withdrew its threat. Star officials say the paper lost $7.2 million during the first 11 months of 1978 and they expect to run a $16 million deficit this year.
One key union -- the pressmen's local -- voted down what was first described as a "final" offer from management on Sunday -- the bargaining deadline -- but later turned around and ratified a modified proposal, despite its members' sharp objections to it. The Star abruptly canceled its New Year's Day editions after news stories were written and set in type, leaving some employes stunned.
"There was a lot of anxiety, but it wasn't this my-God-pulling-my-hair-out type of situation," said John Tierney, a reporter on The Star Metro staff. "It's not the first time the staff has gone through this. Pople were saying that it was just a typical event for Christmas -- that every year instead of a Christmas bonus we got a threat of closing."
Yesterday, the printers union's lastditch agreement with the newspaperhs management was subjected to hours of tense closed-door negotiations among union and management officials and their lawyer -- even after the pact had been ratified by the union's members by what was described as an onverwhelming majority.
One key issue that delayed final agreement between the newspaper and the printers union yesterday centered on a provision of their newly proposed contract requiring 80 Star printers to give up their jobs by June. The union, which had behemently opposed this demand, eventually acceded to a modified arrangement under which 80 printers would retire voluntarily, but could not be subjected to compulsory lay-offs. The Star had offered "buyouts," amounting to $40,000 each, to any printer who quit.
A tough snag developed when only about 65 to 70 Star printers volunteered to resign and accept "buyouts" during the union members' midday meeting, ackcording to union representatives and other sources. The total fell slightly short of mangement's demand, and Hoyt asserted last night that 80 resignations were "essential" to improve the newspaper's efficiency.
This issue was resolved alst night, according to union and Star lawyers, through the union's agreement that it would be contractually obligated to provide 80 voluntary resignationsd from The Star's printing staff. If the union fails to come up with enough printers willing to retire by June, the lawyers said, the union may be sued by management for financial damages.Such a suit could not, however, result in compulsory layoffs of printers, the lawyers said.
The printers union had resisted The Star's plan to eliminate 80 printing jobs, contending that the newspaper mangement's proposal would have "forced" many union members to quit and that such mandatory dismissals would violate key provisions of the unionhs existing contract with The Star that guarantee lifetime jobs for printers.
Printers have lost work a tmany other newspapers because of increased automation. Union officials feared that a contract reqquiring "forced" layoffs at The Star would set a dangerous precedent for other printers' union members nationally.
Even under the provision included in th printers' union new contract with The Star, Lloyed Hysan, the union's shop steward at The Star, charged yesterday that the 80 planned resignations of Star printers were "certainly not voluntarily" because they were obained through The Star's threat of a shurdown.
Printers' union officials said, neverthless, that they has succeeded in retaining on their new contract the previous contracthws provision for lifetime job guarantee. This would apply to all current Star printers except for the 80 who resign and accept "buyouts." Under the new contract, The Star's mangement would be allowed to reduce the printing staff in its composing room to as few as 50 employes, according to union officials, but The Star would be requried to asign any oter typographical union members at the newspaper to other duties.
Star Publisher Hoyt said at last night's news briefing that one of The Star's main acheivements in negotiating new contracts with its employes' 11 unions was obtainin greater "management flexibilityc that will permit The Star to compete effectively for more advertising revenue and increased circulation.
Through provisions embodied in its new contracts, The Star apparently has obtained broad latitude to make changes in the newspaper's operations. It has gained the ability to set the salaries of its highest-paid news and other white-collar employes partly through discretionary "merit" increases, rather than fixed cost-of-living wage rises.
It has obtained considerable authority to bring in nonunion workers for newspaper delivery and other jobs and to subcontract with private companies panies for some work currently performed by The Starhs unionized employes. It has reduced manpower in its blue-collar work force.It has made clear to it employes that it is considering publishing a morning edition on weekdays.
Hoyt said last night that The Star's second principal accomplishment through the recent round of unionmanagement negotations was to secure five years of labor stability.
None of the 14 contracts The Star had with its employes' 11 unions when the recent round of labor talks began last fall was scheduled to expire until late this year. The Star sought, never-theless, to replace all 14 existing agreements with new five-year contracts, effective yesterday. Time Inc. has pledged to invest $60 million in The Star during the next five years, provided that new contracts could be concluded with the unions.
"This is a miletone for The Washington Star," Hoyt said last night after the settlement of the last union contract was announced. "There's going to be a lost of hard work in the next few years. Our market position is not the best and we're going to continue to grow." Hoyt did not disclose any specific new plans for changes in The Starhs format or operations.
Form the unions' vantage point, the recent negotiations with The Star came as a harsh blow. leaders of nearly every union have complained they lost ground on crucial issues affacting the unions' influence and jurisdiction. Most union officials have said they agreed to compromise settlemtns with The Star only becasue of the threat that the newspaper would close down. Despite such asserted losses for the unions, some labor officials have noted, nevertheless, that The Star Provided satisfactory wage increases for some employes.
As a result of yesterdayhs Star agreement with the printers' union, the court battle over possible injunctions and threatened bankruptcy petitions has apparently eneded. "The issue is moot as far as the court is concerned," Judge Richey said last night after talking by telephone with lawyers for The Star and theprinters' union. He said he expected lawsuits in the labor-management dispute to be dismissed today.
Despite his issuance of an injunction, Richey has repeatedly said he preferred that the dispute be settled by The Star and the unions themselves, rather than through a court order.
Last night's announcement that The Star would resume publication was the latest reprieve for a newspaper that has frequently appeared on the brink of financial disaster during the past few years.
Until recent time, The Star, which was foundd in 1852, had been the dominant Washingtion newspaper for many decades, long overshadowing three oter papers, including The Washington Post, in advertising and circulation. The Star had been run for more than a century by members of three influential families -- the Noyes, Kauffmans and Adams.