This week may prove pivotal to outcome of strike at New York Daily News

December 09, 1990|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- Early Tuesday morning, New York Daily News Publisher James Hoge will enter a paneled room on the 24th floor of the cathedral-like Tribune Tower in Chicago and -- before the 14 directors of the Tribune Co. -- report that his newspaper has continued to publish despite a strike that has slashed circulation and forced an exodus of advertisers.

On the streets below, Dennis Rivera, a young and aggressive labor leader from New York, will be leading a group of fellow union activists protesting the management's handling of the strike.

In many ways, they represent the two sides of a labor dispute that has engulfed New York's union movement and threatened the future of what once was the country's largest newspaper. This week, the seventh since the strike began, could well be pivotal: Federal mediators will set up a meeting of both sides in Washington; unions are hoping to turn out New York City's largest-ever union rally tomorrow afternoon at the Daily News building on 42nd Street; Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, will hold hearings Tuesday in New York on his bill to outlaw hiring permanent replacements during strikes, and the Tribune Co. board is meeting for the first time since the strike.

The week begins with the newspaper continuing to print and distribute without its striking workers but at less than half its pre-strike circulation and with the loss of nearly all its major advertisers. The Daily News management has conceded that it will lose $85 million this year and that its more than $30 million investment in pre-strike planning failed to anticipate distribution problems.

The News' efforts to press allegations of union violence have been undercut by police testimony that the claims are overblown.The strikers remain adamant but keenly feel the loss of their paychecks as the strike drags into the holiday season. No progress has been reported in negotiations.

In an interview last week, Mr. Hoge said he would report to Chicago that the paper is slowly reclaiming lost circulation and has promises from its big advertisers to return when the dispute is over. He said the meeting in Chicago is unlikely to change the company's course.

Industry analysts agree that the Tribune Co. is financially capable, for now, of weathering the exodus of a majority of advertisers and the disappearance of more than half the paper's pre-strike circulation of 1.1 million.

The question, they say, is whether the depth of corporate patience matches its resources.

Mr. Rivera, whose Hospital and Health Care Workers Local 1199 has been active in the strike, has used his extensive contacts to urge the nine outside directors of the Tribune Co. to pressure the board members who are executives of the company to settle with the Daily News unions. By Friday, Mr. Rivera said, five had been reached in this way.

"Tuesday's meeting is a way to determine if what's been happening really reflects the full board's thinking," he said.

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