In the wake of their contract expiring at midnight on Monday, Teamsters Local 628, which represents over 400 full-time Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News delivery truck drivers, is holding a strike authorization vote Sunday.
"Their proposal is, 'almost everything you have, we want,'" president John Laigaie said today of management's demands. "'On holidays, you get paid double time-and-a-half – we want time-and-a-half. Your pension – we're not contributing at all. Healthcare, we want you to pay. Vacations, we want back. Days off, we want back.' It's everything you can think of. Everything we worked for in 20 to 30 years of bargaining, they want it all back in one swoop – and also, giant wage cuts."
He said the terms of the proposed agreement are especially hard to swallow, given that the union has made concessions in the past and were promised by the papers' former management that those givebacks would be used to help revitalize the struggling industry.
"But now, the trucks are falling apart – everything's falling apart," he said. "There are some decent folks, but keeping the management here that was part of that hedge fund group is not credible to workers. Once again, the new owners are demanding concessions, saying, 'We're going to put the money back into the papers,' but we just went through that song and dance. And some of the new group, including the publisher, are part of that old regime that didn't put anything back into paper."
Though Laigaie does not expect a strike will happen this weekend, as he said the union is in the process of setting up two meetings with management for next week, he is not optimistic that the two sides will reach a satisfactory agreement. "I want to say as low as you can get – on a scale of one to 10, I'd say it's a one," he said. "I've been doing this a long time here, and this is the least optimistic I've ever been."
And he said that, in the case of a strike, the two newspapers will either stop being delivered or face picketers. "They could bring in other people, of course, but then our energy will be spent outside the plant," he said. "We'll be out at various locations where the papers are sold asking the public not to buy the papers. And when you get into that, the terrible reality is that we then have to work to destroy the paper we worked all these years to keep afloat – which we don't want to do."