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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Collusion among "competitors"

Using a labor strike to gain a monopoly


Time Magazine, Nov. 23, 1959

It was an odd newspaper that landed on Portland, Ore. doorsteps one morning last week. One story read from right to left, the top and bottom decks of a headline were transposed, the sports-page date was upside down, and the logotype read: THE OREGONIAN OREGON JOURNAL. But what was most surprising of all about the paper was that it appeared at all. It was published jointly by Portland's frequently feuding morning Oregonian (circ. 242,035) and evening Journal (circ. 187,588) - and union employees of both papers were on strike.

The strike began with Portland's 54-member Stereotypers' Local No. 48, whose key demand was that four-man crews be used on a new German automatic press plate casting machine, designed for operation by one man, that the Oregonian plans to buy. The Journal refused to bargain separately, and the stereotypers walked off both papers, to be followed by members of all the other newspaper unions. At that point the executives, editorial-page writers, ad salesmen, secretaries and other nonunion employees of the Oregonian and the Journal put on yellow aprons and ran off a joint, jury-rig paper on Oregonian presses.

They had their problems. Don Newhouse, 30, nephew of the Oregonian's owner Samuel I. Newhouse, read from a manual while helping to keep the presses running ten hours a day. Harry McLain, the Journal's vice president in charge of sales, complained that some of the workers were being careless with ads; he took over, promptly pied a full-page ad. Since the printers had taken their tools with them, Oregonian Editor Robert C. Notson had to use a tiny screwdriver from his key ring to punch leads between the linotype slugs on Page One.

But the makeshift effort seemed to be working. There were no cancellations from advertisers, and from the first day's 24-page, 43,000-copy edition, production had moved up by week's end to a Sunday edition of 48 pages, with a press run of 520,000 copies. At that rate it appeared that the Journal and the Oregonian may have turned their composing-room comedy of errors into a long-run test of strength.

Part 6 in a series, "Newhouses and labor unions"

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