Seattle Newspaper Strike: Teamsters versus Teamsters

by Charles Walker

On Sunday, December 10, talks between striking newspaper workers and Seattle’s press lords broke down. The strikers’ union, the Newspaper Guild, said it would escalate the fight by intensifying its boycott. Meanwhile a little-reported picket line conflict involving Teamsters isn’t helping the strikers’ morale.

Two Teamster local unions represent some of the newspaper crafts. Local 763, headed by IBT International Vice President Jon Rabine, represents several hundred mailers and district managers. Local 174, which represents 90 big rig drivers, is headed by Bob Hasegawa, a Leedham Slate candidate for IBT vice president, and a longtime TDU leader.

From the strike’s first day, Hasegawa’s local not only respected the Guild’s lines; it has joined the lines, and placed the local’s tractor trailer at the strike scene.

Sad to say, Rabine’s local has scabbed on the Guild strikers from day one. Rabine has been censured unanimously by the King County Labor Council. Some rank and file Teamsters have protested to IBT president James P. Hoffa. But Rabine is sticking to his guns, refusing to back down. According to insider reports, Rabine says he would honor the strike if the Guild was only striking to obtain his so-called pattern. But under his “pattern,” his members have two-tier deals and are paid as little as $10 an hour. Some wonder if the Guild could satisfy Rabine’s “pattern” if they accepted the bosses “last, best, and final” offer of $3.30 over six years.

Rabine hurried his own members’ contract vote, even after a majority of the unit’s members refused to vote on the contract. That happened just a few days before the all-but-inevitable strike began. Linda Howard, a truck driver, told the strikers’ newspaper, the Seattle Union Record, that Local 763 members were very unhappy to be working. “They’ll picket when they get off work, but they have to cross [the picket line], because their contract says they can only strike if it’s sanctioned, and Rabine won’t [sanction it],” she said.

Hasegawa’s knee-jerk support of the Guild strikers at Seattle’s two corporate newspapers doesn’t surprise Seattle’s unionists. At last year’s anti-WTO demonstrations, Hasegawa provided around-the-clock, hands-on leadership in the streets where the action was. But Hasegawa has upset top-down Teamster bureaucrats. For example, in 1997, UPS bosses were caught on tape plotting with Joint Council 28 officers to foil Hasegawa, who insisted on bringing rank and file Teamsters into the bargaining sessions for the regional rider to the UPS national contract.

It should be no surprise then that when Hasegawa recently ran for reelection, he faced an opposition partly financed by Teamster officials from up and down the West Coast. Out of some 3,000 votes cast, Hasegawa may have lost by two votes. A dozen or more disputed sealed votes remain to be counted, but when, if ever, is anyone’s guess.

Nobody ever said it was safe to be a militant, reform officer in the Teamsters Union. But from Farrell Dobbs to Ron Carey to Bob Hasegawa, there have always been standup leaders not afraid to pay the price.