Murdoch mulls Hub's Herald

By DAVE O'BRIAN  |  October 25, 2007

Meanwhile, there was hubbub at the Herald. “They weren’t taking any pains to avoid being seen,” said one veteran Hearst reporter of those folks touring the plant (even as Page maintained he was unaware of these particular goings-on). “The ‘sold’ rumors are as strong now as the ‘fold’ rumors were last June.” And then, last Tuesday, the Murdoch emissaries were reported to be touring the building again, even as general manager Mulligan was meeting with the heads of the paper’s various unions to announce that Hearst had flatly rejected a union proposal that any agreement to sell the paper include language protecting the jobs of the paper’s remaining 180 or so full-time and substitute composing-room employees. Mulligan is also reported to have rejected improved severance benefits for the craft unions (all of whose members, regardless of seniority, would get a flat eight weeks’ pay if the paper folded). The proposal for job guarantees if the paper is sold had been made at an October 8 negotiating session called by Henry Vitale, president of Boston Typographical Union (BTU) Local 13. On Tuesday, however, Mulligan and attorney Louis Goldsmith told Vitale and the others that Hearst couldn’t possibly negotiate a sale with any potential buyer if it included such a restriction — not, Mulligan added, that any such negotiations were going on.

Most Herald unions have been without a contract since December 31, 1980, and Hearst instituted a hiring freeze at the beginning of this year, as advertising lineage figures continued to decline. Daily circulation, by contrast, seems to have improved since the paper was converted into a lively and outrageous tabloid last fall. The spring Audit Bureau of Circulation figures showed that the Herald’s daily circulation had increased by roughly 2800 papers, to 211, 930, in the previous year. And lately the paper has been running in-house ads claiming as many as 46,000 new daily readers since the paper went tabloid. Sunday circulation has fallen sharply, however, and the paper’s most recent cost-cutting measures have included cutbacks in home delivery.

“It’s no secret that they’re trying to sell it,” Vitale told the Phoenix. “But the Herald American is saying we used your people for 19 months, the paper turned around a little bit and brought up the selling price, and now we want to sell it out from under you.” Tuesday night, after management rejected the BTU’s severance and sale-agreement proposals, the paper’s production process was delayed and it got out of the building an hour and a half late. Vitale said he had met with his people twice that day, but claimed he hadn’t heard anything about the paper’s getting out late.

On Sunday the BTU will hold its regular monthly meeting, and Vitale said he would ask the membership to grant permission to the negotiating committee to initiate a strike on its own. Some Herald workers were concerned that the typos could actually vote to walk on Sunday; traditionally, however, no single union in the plant strikes until first informing the “unity council,” made up of the heads of all the unions.

All of which is one more chapter, not yet completely written, in the uncertain status of the Herald and its employees. Arsene Davignon, president of the editorial union, says he’s not involved in the craft unions’ latest struggles because his department’s contract has provisions like those in question. Instead, he’s been fighting with Hearst to get to see the paper’s books — a proposal that was offered by management two years ago, but later withdrawn — to see if there’s anything there worth negotiating about.

“In the meantime,” said Davignon, “we’re just waiting — and praying.”

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