then don't hold back,
Seattle strike vet
tells Providence Guild
You can't be too prepared.
That was the lesson Naomi Ishisaka of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild -- the union that struck the Seattle newspapers for more than six weeks this past year -- had for members of the Providence Guild.
When the Pacific Northwest Guild set out to organize its strike, a massive coordinated effort of the entire membership, it used mobilization strategies from the Communications Workers of America, plus some home-grown approaches, Ishisaka told members at the June 14 membership meeting.
A copy editor at The Seattle Times, Ishisaka is one of the strikers who weren't immediately rehired when the strike ended Jan. 9.
With her name on a call-back list -- which still includes around 50 of the 1,000 strikers -- Ishisaka got a job as editor-in-chief of ColorsNW Magazine. That led the Seattle Times to fire her
for working for "competing media." The Guild is fighting the company's action.
Before and during the strike, the Pacific Guild adopted a CWA mobilization strategy - one that is used for all negotiation efforts, not just strikes - that calls for a coordinator for every eight to ten workers.
Ishisaka said the local Guild also worked on organizing members around issues they cared about. The Guild set up committees on issues like sick leave or retirements and recruited members to become resident experts on them.
"Hundreds of people were involved," she said. "We bred a bunch of little activists throughout the union."
The big push for the strike at The Times and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which are run by joint operating agreement, was from the circulation and advertising departments, she said. While newsroom salaries were pretty good, Ishisaka said advertising workers had seen their pay depend more and more in incentive bonuses at the expense of a base salary they could count on year to year.
In 1999, a new slate of officers was elected that reflected that bitterness. Newsroom workers were the most uncomfortable with the strike, she said. Management kept playing on the specter of the Detroit strike and fed rumors that it wanted the strike either as a pretext to fire everyone or to sell the papers.
Support from the Seattle area community was terrific, she said. The CWA came through with financial support for members and local organizations helped members find low-cost or free food. Still, she said more should have been done to prepare members for the financial burdens of striking.
The Guild also should have done more to prepare a broader strategy, she said. The strike was seen as the major weapon. It wasn't until after the members walked that they began seriously considering a circulation boycott and demonstrations outside major advertisers' places of business.
Even during the strike, initial support was not unanimous for a subscriber boycott, she said. Some members were concerned it would hurt the long-term financial health of the Seattle newspapers. Ishisaka said this puzzled boycott supporters. They said: " 'Duh. Are you guys nuts? You're on strike.' "
Things didn't really change in the talks until the union began putting union members outside advertisers businesses, handing out leaflets about the strike. In hindsight, she said they should have done that sooner.
"Use all the leverage you can," she said. "Everywhere you can get it."
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495