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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

In memory of Don Newhouse

"The strike just simmered down to a holding operation, and they kept on picketing for five years before they gave up."

In 1959, while Newhouse was outmaneuvering the unions in St. Louis, his employees at the Portland Oregonian went out on strike.

Not only was this strike as bitter as the one in St. Louis, it was also violent.

It started with management's insistence on installing a labor-saving machine to cast plates for the presses - the first at any American newspaper. Union leaders insisted that once the machine was installed, staffing levels remain the same. Negotiations went nowhere. Newhouse hoped that the other unions, the guild especially, wouldn't support the stereotypers' demands, but they did. S.I. was determined to continue publishing even if all the unions walked out.

Officials at the Oregon Journal, which Newhouse would buy two years later, agreed - strangely, many thought - to support the Oregonian in the event of a strike. Together they published under the name Oregonian-Oregon Journal, with the help of some outsiders, but mostly with supervisors in the advertising and circulation departments who had been surreptitiously trained, late at night, to operate the equipment.

Getting the paper out was difficult at first, but as time passed, became almost routine. The credit went mainly to Don Newhouse, a younger first cousin of Sam's, who was the Oregonian's production manager and as such ad trained the strikebreakers to print the paper.

Then, one Sunday afternoon in October 1960, someone - never apprehended - fired a shotgun through Don Newhouse's window as he worked the basement shop of his house. The shot pierced his hip. Slowly, he recovered most - but not all - of the use of his leg. The surgeon decided not to remove the pellets lodged in his hip because some were so deep that removing them would damage muscle. (Don remained at the Oregonian for a while, but at Sam's request moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, to help build a new plant for Newhouse's papers there. While there, he died suddenly after some of the pellets worked their way into his bloodstream and to his heart.)

The wounding of Don Newhouse and the blowing up of several delivery trucks caused the union to lose sympathy and support - two-thirds of guild members, for example, eventually came back. According to Bob Notson, "the strike just simmered down to a holding operation, and they kept on picketing for five years before they gave up."

(© Carol Felsenthal, "Citizen Newhouse", p.112-113)

Part 10 in a series, "Newhouses and labor unions"

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