Reporters, columnists, photographers and artists at The Sun, who are members of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, are expected to start a "byline strike" Monday, declining to put their names on stories, columns, pictures and graphics in the paper.
The move comes with just 10 days remaining before the June 24 expiration of the current contract covering Guild workers at the paper. Union leaders said the duration would depend on movement in negotiations on a new contract.
The Guild represents more than 600 Sun employees, including about 300 in the newsroom. Others work in advertising and in support roles at the newspaper.
Union leaders said the action is planned because members are unhappy with what they see as a lack of adequate progress in negotiations.
"The members ... said we would like to show [the company] that we are supporting our bargaining committee, and this is how they chose to do it," said M. William Salganik, a reporter at The Sun and president of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. "This isn't to punish The Sun, it is to show our seriousness and solidarity. Our interest is not to hurt the paper."
But Sun executives said that is just what members of the Guild are doing when they withhold their names from the work they do.
William K. Marimow, The Sun's editor, called the planned byline action a blunder.
"I think it is a grave mistake to hurt the newspaper when there's still progress being made at the bargaining table," Marimow said.
He explained that readers will suffer because unsigned reviews and opinion columns will not be published. Use of such material would be inappropriate, he said.
Bargaining began on April 29. Both sides agree there has been limited progress since.
In recent days, the two sides have agreed on a number of small issues but major points of dispute remain, including the possible size of employee contributions to health care insurance, pensions, sick leave, salaries and worker transfer policies.
Management wants pay increases tied to performance and has proposed that Guild members accept a one-year wage freeze already agreed to by other workers at the paper.
Last week, Sun negotiators offered a $1,000 bonus to Guild members if a contract is settled by June 24. On Wednesday, they offered a $10-a-week raise in the second and third years of a proposed five-year agreement, with an equal amount going into a merit pay pool.
The company also has responded to union complaints about sick leave, pension and other proposals.
"Two 1 percent raises over five years is better than no raises, but it is not ... something that would appeal to our members as a settlement," Salganik said.
The union has reduced its pay increase request from 6 percent a year to 4.25 percent and allowed two newsroom positions to be excluded from Guild jurisdiction in return for accepting a company proposal to increase night differential by 50 cents.
Given the recent progress, neither side is ready to predict a strike.
"I think negotiations are moving at a good clip," said Mireille Grangenois, vice president of marketing and interactive media. "I am optimistic that we will get a contract settled by the 24th."
The Guild plans a Wednesday meeting to update members on the talks, Salganik said. On Thursday, the union will hold a rally in an attempt to generate public pressure on the company.
The last strike at The Sun came in 1987, when the Newspaper Guild walked out for six days.
The company's preparations to continue publishing in the event of another strike has been another sore point for the Guild and many of its members. The Sun is training temporary workers for that eventuality.
"The Sun has published before during strikes without using strikebreakers and I think bringing them in this early, this openly, training them in our own building is meant to be intimidating," Salganik said.
But Grangenois said the company owes it to its readers and advertisers to be ready to continue publishing in the event of a strike.
Not every Guild member is comfortable with the planned byline strike.
Metro columnist Dan Rodricks said he will drop his byline out of a "sense of commitment to the union."
"I don't fully endorse the byline strike," Rodricks said. "I am not convinced we need to do this at this point. It is not something I do lightly."
Some Sun staff bylines will continue to appear because the paper's foreign correspondents, reporters in the newspaper's Washington bureau and interns are not members of the Guild.