• U.S.

Press: The Star Stays

2 minute read

Still two papers in town

For weeks, right up to New Year’s Eve, the issue remained in doubt. Would the nation’s capital remain a two-newspaper town? Or would the deficit-plagued Washington Star be forced to call it quits?

Time Inc., which had bought the Star last February from Texas Financier Joe L. Allbritton, found the paper’s condition to be shakier than anticipated. The Star was $10 million in the red in 1978, and losses of $16 million were projected for 1979. Last October the Star’s management announced that Time Inc. would commit $60 million to a five-year program aimed at making the paper profitable, but only under a condition: the paper’s eleven unions had to replace their unexpired contracts with new five-year agreements allowing management greater flexibility and to take cost-saving measures. If the new contracts were not signed by midnight Dec. 31, the paper would close down permanently.

The last union to hold out was the Star’s printers. Partly as a result of a provision in the existing contract guaranteeing them lifetime jobs, the Star has 183 printers, many more than it needs to run its automated typesetting equipment. One element of the management proposal was that 80 printers be retired over six months with $40,000 in severance pay apiece. The union balked and on Dec. 31 got a court injunction barring the paper from going out of business, arguing that the contract indicated that all disputes about the agreement should be taken to arbitration. When the Star replied that it would be forced to petition for bankruptcy if the new contracts were not signed, the printers began negotiating again and soon settled. The Star praised the unions’ efforts and proclaimed: “We are here to stay.”

The contracts provide for $12 million in wage increases over the first three years, with further raises to be negotiated later. “Not a bad package,” conceded an official of the Teamsters, one of the unions involved. In an editorial, the Post expressed “joyous satisfaction” at the “continued life of our worthy competitor” but noted what it called the Star’s “hardball” bargaining tactics. The Star responded with an editorial that thanked its rival for the kind words and observed wryly that the Post had not exactly played “beanbag” with its own unions. After pressmen struck the Post in 1975, the paper replaced them with nonunion workers who are still there, more than three years later.

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