Strike Force From NY

The fear and loathing at the New York Daily News spread to Chicago last week. Seven of that tabloid’s 2,300 striking workers announced that the war had come home to headquarters and began picketing the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue. They also took their campaign to the Gold Coast, marching outside the high rise at 1500 N. Lake Shore Drive, where Charles Brumback lives. Brumback is CEO of the Tribune Company and author of the failing strategy to break the Daily News unions in New York.

The Lake Shore Drive action caused the usual urban stir–squad cars, a corporation counsel or two, gawkers on passing buses and in the windows of nearby buildings. But the doorman wouldn’t let the strikers in Brumback’s lobby. The New Yorkers made even less of an impression in the following days when they took their fight to the suburbs.

First they went looking for Arnold Weber, the Tribune Company director who’s president of Northwestern University and once wrote a book called Strategies for the Displaced Worker. A doughty receptionist kept them at bay.

Then over the weekend they set out to confront other directors at their domiciles. The fallback plan, should their targets elude them, was to spread fliers in the directors’ neighborhoods.

The fliers they carried were headlined “Meet Your Neighbor–The Fat Cats” on one side and “Corporate Terrorism Tribune Co. Style” on the other. Alas! The vast estates and bosky serenity of the North Shore made the scheme absurd. “It’s ridiculous to leaflet in front of those homes,” crime reporter Jerry Capesi told us. “You never see anyone else go by!”

No one came to the door of board chairman Stanton Cook’s stately brick home in Kenilworth, and not a mouse stirred at director Andrew McKenna’s old-English-style mansion in Winnetka. The hapless New Yorkers attached stickers that said “Stop Tribune Co. Union-Busting” to the front doors and moved on.

But when they trooped up the walk to the home of Charles Madigan, the president of the Chicago Tribune and McKenna’s fellow Winnetkan, his teenage daughter answered.

He’s busy, she said.

We’re striking reporters from New York, crime reporter Gene Mustain pleaded. (In an earlier life, which ended when the strike began, he and Capesi authored Mob Star, an acclaimed biography of John Gotti.) We’ve come a long way. Please ask him to find the time . . .

Hold on, she said.

Madigan appeared in shirtsleeves. He stood warily in the doorway for about seven minutes defying the subfreezing weather and hearing out the contingent from Manhattan’s East 42nd Street. We’re not here to harass you, said Mustain. We just want to get our message across that this strike’s not in anyone’s interests.

I have nothing to do with the Daily News, Madigan told them. That’s up to Jim Hoge, who’s the publisher, and Charles Brumback.

But you’re on the board, the visitors reminded him. You do have influence. Could we come in and explain our position?

I don’t think so, said Madigan.

Pat McDonald, a striking driver, spoke up. I’m not just a driver but a stockholder, he said, and I hope that you as a member of the board live up to your legal and fiduciary obligations.

I intend to, said Madigan.

McDonald extended his tattooed right hand and Madigan shook it. And the war party departed. “It was really a funny scene,” Capesi told us later. “He said he appreciated the fact we’d been so peaceful about the whole thing.”

So it cannot be said that the opposite camps are not talking. Unfortunately, a chat in Winnetka is about as far as it goes. And the clock ticks. In mid-January, Hoge announced that his paper could no longer tolerate the financial losses it was taking from the strike; he gave formal notice that if the strike wasn’t settled or the paper wasn’t sold in 60 days, the Daily News probably would shut down.

“We’ve won!” Capesi told us. “We’ve won the strike against the Daily News. We’ve already destroyed the Daily News. The announcement by Hoge is proof of it.”

Only someone in extreme jeopardy can think of “winning” by destroying his place of work. That’s how it seems to the unions that walked out last October. The Daily News instigated the strike, then quickly brought in permanent replacements and went on publishing. Management continues to insist on a management-rights clause–which the unions say would destroy them–as the basis for any new contracts.

After a decade of losses (which the unions lay to bad management), the strike was going to be the paper’s golden opportunity to curb labor and slash costs and climb comfortably back into the black. But management seriously underestimated the unions’ ability to keep vendors from selling the News and retailers from advertising in it. The circulation of the Daily News dropped to less than half its original 1.1 million and stayed there, and almost all the major advertisers disappeared.

“They’ve created a monster,” said Capesi, who’s vice chairman of the Newspaper Guild Strike Coordinating Committee. “Twenty-three hundred workers with no jobs and nothing to do but get even.”

So now some of the strikers have fanned out. “We’ll bring pressure on the entire Tribune Company empire,” said Capesi. “We’re asking their listeners, readers, viewers across the country to boycott their respective Tribune Company subsidiaries, because the company’s using the profits generated in those cities to break the unions in New York. . . . We’re calling on union workers here to help put pressure on the Tribune Company to settle with the Tribune workers in New York.”

In 1983, the Chicago Tribune broke three of its crafts unions. The city couldn’t have cared less. We told Capesi that we didn’t see why he expects a Tribune Company boycott on behalf of New York labor to stir souls in Chicago when a boycott on behalf of our fellow Chicagoans fell flat.

“I think the stakes are much higher now,” he said. “I think workers in Chicago and across the country are much more aware of the steamroller effect this is having on workers everywhere in the country. The Newspaper Guild alone has gotten more than $150,000 in cash contributions from workers across the country who realize they’re next. This is a watershed case.”

Capesi went back to New York Sunday night. But other strikers will stay on and organize, at least until a Tribune Company stockholders meeting in mid-February. High on their list of things to do is continuing to pursue the ten Tribune Company directors who live in the Chicago area.

“We’re going to visit all of them and make life difficult for them,” said Capesi. “We want them to know we’re not going away. We’re trying to persuade them it’s in their best interests to settle with the unions. If they want to kill us off–and that’s basically what they’ve said–we’re going to do our damnedest to retaliate and bring down the entire company.”

And so from one striking newspaperman–end-stage nihilism.

Leaving Chicago

Last May Chicago magazine published a cover story about four illegal Mexican immigrants who were serving life sentences for four 1981 murders that they almost certainly did not commit. The saga of these murders, which turned on family feuding that reached back into Mexico, made excellent reading. It also made justice; on January 9, outgoing governor Jim Thompson commuted the four life sentences to time served.

“It was ironic,” editor Hillel Levin told us a few days later, “that in the week I decided to leave we had one of our greatest triumphs. We got four people out of prison. That’s something city magazines don’t do.”

Levin took over Chicago in early 1987, when a group led by the Adams Communications Corporation of Minneapolis bought the magazine from WTTW (or to be precise, from the Chicago Educational Television Association). Levin made some staff changes, introduced some editorial spine, and even though the magazine never changed all that much, it became clearly better. Levin liked to go after people.

We asked him about senior editor David Jackson, who’s been hired away by the Tribune. And Levin said solemnly, “I only hope he has the same support and encouragement he had here to be fearless about who he writes about.”

Jackson’s leaving because he’s young and eager and was offered a position on the Tribune investigative team. Levin is leaving because he’s young and wants to own things. Besides editing Chicago, he and his partner Kirk Cheyfitz had bought and sold media properties for Adams. Last year they engineered the sale of Chicago itself to Landmark Communications of Virginia, a deal that gave the magazine deeper pockets but left the two of them with much less to do. “Our understanding was we’d go out and buy magazine properties for [Landmark] on a scale they could afford and we couldn’t,” Levin said. “They decided they didn’t want to operate that way. They wanted to go slower, steadier. They wanted to invest in Chicago and see how the city-magazine field goes.”

With money in their pockets after selling back to Adams their own equity in the various deals they’d done, Levin and Cheyfitz looked around. They spotted a chain of 60 cruise-ship and resort magazines whose founder, a Britisher named Peter Saville, didn’t want to run them anymore. Now Levin and Cheyfitz will.

Levin will stay at Chicago part-time through the end of February, largely to contribute to the search for a new editor. Because of the state of magazines across the country, there are lots and lots of talented editors around who don’t happen to have jobs.

We called David Jackson to wish him well. We’ve known Jackson since he wrote Hot Type in the mid-80s while doing grub work for Chicago. That was before Levin took over and gave him a chance to shine.

“He liked throwing me in over my head,” said Jackson. “I’ve worked for a lot of editors. I’ve never worked for one who was so ambitious for me.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.