Kaitlyn Waller, Staff Writer
The Mercantile presented “At Work at the Newspaper: The Unique Nature of Collective Bargaining in the Newspaper Industry” last Friday at 10 a.m. in the St. Louis Mercantile Library. The program was in conjunction with the current “Headlines of History” exhibit, which details the history of newspapers through the centuries in St. Louis and across the world.
The event featured a panelist of guest speakers: Ed Finkelstein, publisher of the St. Louis Labor Tribune; Tim O’Neil, retired St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter; John Ebeling, past president of the St. Louis Typographical Union Local 8; and Joe Holleman, reporter and columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Together, the speakers had a collective total of 200 years of experience in the industry. Each panelist presented a topic on a particular aspect of unions and newspapers through the employee’s perspective.
The topics included “The Birth and Demise of St. Louis Typographical Union Local 8 at the Post and How Technology Eroded Its Base” by Ebeling; “The St. Louis Newspaper Guild at the Post: The Early Years at the Post and the Growth of the Union” by O’Neil; “The Labor Struggle Continues: The Current Relationship Between Labor and Management at the Post” by Holleman; and “A Lasting Newspaper: St. Louis Labor Tribune as a Functioning Business, and Coverage of Labor Issues in Newspapers” by Finkelstein.
Ebeling presented the first topic. He detailed the history of changes in printing technology and how new technology eroded the Typographical Union’s base. Newspapers graduated from “hot metal” to “hand-set” type and eventually to “cold type” and then to computers. In 2006 the remainder of the Typographical Union job guarantee program was gone because there was no more need for typesetters.
“You can see what computers did to the typographical union at the Post-Dispatch,” said Ebeling. Finkelstein commented, “It gives you an idea how the industry has changed dramatically from new technology.”
The other panelists talked more deeply of unions and their importance to newspaper employees and to workers at large. O’Neil discussed the establishment of the “Guild,” a union for employees in the newspaper industry and in advertisement formed in 1933, and the accomplishments of the union in higher wages, medical care and pensions.
However, the panelists discussed the turning point in the 90s when the Post began to weaken unions because of decreased paper circulation and thin newspapers.
Holleman said it isn’t as awful as it appears, although he acknowledged that the Guild’s dwindling numbers are undeniable.
“We’ve reached some line of we’re all in this struggling business together,” he said. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” he offered in reference to the Post’s relationship with Lee Enterprise.
New contract negotiations begin on Monday at the Post, and Holleman posited the Guild is working from a “position of strength” because of Missouri’s support for unions, as seen in the recent vote on Prop A.
The panel was closed by Finkelstein who talked about his paper the Labor Tribune. He said his paper’s ultimate goal is to inform the public on the nature and purpose of unions and to inform the public on current propositions on labor laws.
“We’re seeing more and more need for the labor movement,” Finkelstein said. “Our goal with the labor press is to remind workers the union is their job insurance. Our second goal is to educate and motivate.”
Finkelstein and Holleman spoke of how more people, especially the youth, are becoming aware of the need for unions, and Finkelstein believes the Labor Tribune will play an important role in revitalizing the labor movement.