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Posties want a raise -- a big one

Don't be surprised if Post-Dispatch scribes show up on Larry Rice's TV channel, offering up hard-luck testimonials about Uncle Pulitzer taking bread from their babes and yanking the damn 'lectric. After eight years -- years marked by newsroom mayhem and circulation decline -- the Newspaper Guild's labor contract expired last week.

Now the moaning and gnashing of teeth begins in earnest.

Actually, the whining never stops at the P-D, where worker bees just can't shake that feeling of proletarian solidarity. In a replay of 1994, those heartless management bastards have presented an onerous 37-page list of demands that threaten the very existence of the Guild; the union's responded with an oh-so-reasonable request for an 18.6 percent wage hike. Herb Goodrick, the local's executive secretary, defends the wage demand: "We've actually lost ground -- from the period 1992 until today, we've lost about 10 percent of our buying power."

Keep in mind: Experienced Post editorial workers get paid at least $1,054 a week -- not shabby, considering that only a dozen-or-so Guild papers in the U.S. have a higher top minimum. Worm's talking about bigger and better papers, operating in bigger and more expensive places. (The Post still ranks among the best-paying newspapers, despite a four-year pay freeze.)

But there's a twist in the Lou: New hires -- meaning folks hired after 1994 -- would have to clock eight years at the Post (or the equivalent) before making top minimum; before '94, it took only five years. Such concessions, creating two classes of employees who do the same work, underscores a problem with weak unions: The prevailing attitude is "Protect the interests of current members first and let the future take care of itself."

That's a very human tendency. Who can blame the wage slaves at 900 North Tucker for self-interest when top management sets the pace? Take Pulitzer CEO Robert C. Woodworth, whose base salary -- not counting bonuses and stocks options -- was $678,847 in 2001, up 10 percent from the previous year. Or Post publisher Terry Egger, whose salary jumped 8 percent to $337,019 in the same period. According to the company's proxy, Pulitzer's seven best-paid execs, including company chairman and Cardinals co-owner Michael E. Pulitzer, pulled in $3.2 million in just salary and bonuses in 2001 -- enough to hire more than 50 experienced scribes, not counting the cost of benefits.

Three bargaining sessions have been held; contract talks resume January 22; an evergreen clause keeps everything status quo until an agreement is reached -- or an impasse is declared.

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