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Monday, December 18, 2006

Striking it rich, part 2

Pay $12,000 per year. Get $10,000 per day.

Had the extreme belt-tightening measures begun in 1956 not antagonized nearly every union employee at the newspaper, the stereotypers' walkout would have been a short-lived affair, for theirs was not a well-respected union.

But so much hostility had developed toward management that a general strike over the issue of the stereotypers' contract was conceivable, and Frey's uncompromising attitude only exacerbated the situation.

Moreover, encouraged by his success at union busting in St. Louis, Newhouse had even higher hopes for Portland. He wanted to be in a position to make newspaper history by continuing to publish the Oregonian even if all of its unions walked out.

Preparations began at around the same time that he started the economy drive at the Oregonian. First, he arranged to have his brother Theodore and Mike Frey appointed to the American Newspaper Publishers Association's Publishing Premium Fund Committee.

Previously, Newhouse had taken little interest in the ANPA's activities, but this committee got special attention, because it was in the process of establishing strike insurance for America's newspapers. In return for annual premiums of $12,262.50, the Oregonian would be entitled to recover as much as $10,000 per day in the event of a strike.

Equally important, Newhouse and Frey secured from their Portland competitor, The Oregon Journal, assurances that it, too, would stand by the Oregonian in the event of a strike.

This curious promise could well have been an outgrowth of the "handshake" deal Jerome Walker believed Newhouse had cut with the Journal's owners back in 1950.

The heart of their plan was even more extraordinary. Starting in mid-1959, Newhouse had Frey direct the Oregonian's most trusted nonunion personnel - mostly supervisors in the advertising and circulation departments - to report for extra duty. Late at night, after the city edition had been put to bed and the regular production crew had gone home, Frey's men would sneak in to the back shop, where Don Newhouse and others trained them to operate the equipment.

(© Richard H. Meeker, "Newspaperman", p.194-195)

Part 4 in a series, "Newhouses and labor unions"

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