Monday, June 23, 2008

The Man Who Made Murdoch Sweat

In 1982, Rupert Murdoch was attempting to acquire the Boston Herald American, and he had to negotiate with 11 different local unions. My Uncle Charlie was president of the Boston Mailers Union, Local 1, and the toughest negotiator. Wilfrid C. Rodgers wrote an article in the December 5th, 1982 Boston Globe about the negotiations, titled "The Man Who Made Murdoch Sweat".

Asked to describe Charles Dugan, president of the Boston Mailers Union, Local 1, a colleague says:

"Quiet, firm, unassuming but damned stubborn."

No doubt Rupert Murdoch and his corps of labor negotiators would agree with the last two words of the description. In fact, some might add harsher language to the "stubborn" part. Murdoch entered the negotiations with an Oxford education and some of the ablest labor negotiators in the nation. His aim? To save enough money in labor costs so he could buy the Herald American and make it a profitable enterprise.

Dugan, a Stoughton father of five, entered the bargaining with a Hyde Park High School education and a loyal and militant membership behind him. His goal? To save as many jobs as possible.

When it came down to the nitty gritty, this was the last sticky issue. As few as four jobs were at stake immediately, but there were quite a few more if Murdoch boosts the newspaper's circulation and adds new newspaper packaging equipment.

The "stubborness" of Dugan and his negotiating team forced Murdoch to postpone one deadline after another. In the end, 10 minutes before the last and supposedly final deadline of 5 p.m. Friday, it was Murdoch who backed off. Dugan got what he wanted. Of the 11 newspaper unions involved in the negotiations, it was the mailers who were the last to come to a settlement. It was also the mailers union that Murdoch chose to take on last, a factor he may now regret.

Most of the labor observers at the negotiations assumed the toughest foe for the Murdoch group would be the pressmen's union. Once that union agreed, they said, the mailers would fall into line.

Yet Murdoch had a warning from the pressmen.

When he announced acceptance of the Murdoch offer, Edward Mylett, president of the pressmen, said, "I hope Murdoch will make every effort to settle the unresolved issues with the mailers."

The message from Mylett was, "You haven't won the battle yet."
Mylett looks on Dugan as a negotiator "who is steadfast, can hold a position."
And that is when the battle over arithmetic began and the Hyde Park High School alumnus, who actually received his diploma while in the service, refused to back off.

Dugan had become active in the Mailer union when he returned from the service. He has also attended the George Meany Labor School in Washington, D.C. and the Harvard Trade Union Program.Dugan made sure before the negotiations that if the mailers failed to get a contract with Murdoch, Murdoch's Australian newspapers would hear about it the hard way.

While attending the Harvard program, Dugan became friendly with Autralian labor leaders. In a telephone conversation last week, they told Dugan they would be "delighted" to picket all of Murdoch's Australian newspapers with informational picket signs giving the mailers' side of the negotiations.

During the height of negotiations, Dugan made sure the Murdoch negotiators knew of the possible pickets.

During the negotiations in Boston, Murdoch asked to have only two men on each stacking line (an assembly line where papers are stacked by a machine operator, marked for destination, and tied into a package).Without it, his negotiators said their savings in the mailroom would be $100,000 short of what was needed. Since Murdoch had assigned a money-saving must to each craft of the newspaper, this was to be inviolate.

Dugan, with the assistance of Mylett and other union leaders, convinced the Murdoch negotiators and Murdoch himself that to insist on cutting the stacking line by one man (there are about seven stacking lines at the Herald American) would mean an impasse and the death of the paper.


Murdoch finally agreed. But when the proposition was explained to the union's Unity Council, some unions including the Typographical Union objected.They insisted they had "me too" clauses in their tentative agreements.To satisfy all, the Murdoch negotiators agreed to change the wage package from a 5 percent increase the first year and a cost of living increase in the second and third years to a straight 5 percent in each of the three years. All the unions bought it.

The newspaper was saved although there are still hard feelings between some of the unions and the mailers. Much of this is deep in history. The mailers union is proud of their name - Local 1. It was the first mailers union to affiliate with the Typographical union in 1892.

Yet the very nature of the mailers' work over the years, based originally more on muscle than the skill of a craft, has caused friction. To add to this friction is the fact that mailers traditionally have always been paid less per hour than the other craft unions.

It was an effort by the mailers in 1956 to decrease this differential that led to the citywide strike of seven newspapers that year. Yet while the nature of their work is changing because of automation - the unions' position on this is that it wants to share in the productivity of any new technology - the mailers union continues to be among the most militant of unions in the area.


Their solidarity and their support for Dugan was probably best displayed yesterday when a placard was posted in the mailroom at The Globe.In big black bold letters the sign said:

"Thank you Charlie and Committee
.


The Man Who Made Murdoch Sweat passed away.

A great man, full of life till the end, still cracking jokes and singing songs on the day he died. Lots of great stories, like the time he and my dad stole a cement mixer when they were little kids and used it to sail down the Neponset River...he is missed.

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