Unreal didn't get any chocolates at our table, either, and we're still peeved about it. Then again, maybe if we'd actually attended the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis' annual black-tie dinner December 3 at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton, we'd have stood a better chance of scoring some choco-discs, which were placed on all tables in the swank ballroom except the one at which members of the Newspaper Guild of St. Louis were seated. The guild, which represents St. Louis Post-Dispatch employees, is in heated contract negotiations with the daily paper. Some see a strike on the horizon, and they took the absence of the sweets as an intentional symbolic slight.
When the guild purchased a table for the dinner, the press club was nervous. The union has been stepping up efforts in recent weeks to draw attention to the negotiations, and with so many members of the press community in attendance, it would seem the perfect setting for a spectacular stunt. Would the guild disrupt the proceedings -- which this year honored the daily paper on its 125th anniversary?
"Our concern was that it not be used as a forum for any disruptive behavior," explains Robert Cohn, chairman of the board of the Press Club and editor-in-chief and publisher of the St. Louis Jewish Light. "At the same time, we certainly didn't want to restrict, as a press organization, their free-speech rights and their free-expression concerns."
Guild members arrived at the fête wearing T-shirts that read, "Stop Outsourcing Work Now!" on the front and "Is Your Job Next?" on the back. Guild member Carolyn Tuft, a Post staff writer, says local PR flack Joan Quicksilver, who helped plan the event, told them they couldn't come in unless they ditched the divisive garb. "She made a bigger scene by pushing us out and making us all stand together where everybody came in," Tuft says. (Quicksilver could not be reached for comment.)
But Cohn, who'd spoken earlier with guild president Tim O'Neil to ensure a calm evening's roast of Post publisher Terry Egger, overruled Quicksilver and allowed the guild members to be seated -- "[at] the furthest table away from what was going on," Tuft says.
The guild has been without a contract for a little under a year, and have sat with ownership close to two dozen times, to no avail. Less than a week after the press club banquet, guild members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if talks bog down again. O'Neil says the negotiations are hung up mainly on the Post ownership's desire to create an "open shop," in which new hires could reap the benefits of membership but choose not to join the union. In the past, the Post-Dispatch's own editorials have decried open shops, O'Neil points out. "We think that absolutely contradicts the Post-Dispatch and its platform and its reputation and its own editorials," he says. "I mean, here we are quoting the Post-Dispatch's own editorials against the company's position. Nobody in this building except top management thinks this is a good idea. It's an absolute non-starter, it is a lead balloon among our membership."
Post media relations manager Matt Davis disagrees. "There are major newspapers across the country where the newspaper guild has negotiated similar provisions to this in their contract and still have very strong unions," says Davis. "We are not trying to bust the union. From our perspective, it's just a matter of individual choice. People should have the right to join or not join the union and not have to face the fear of being fired. And that's consistent. That was a concept that Joseph Pulitzer II, when the guild started, had espoused. That for our news and editorial folks, and the people in the newspaper guild, this is something that we think is important, to give those employees a choice. There are ways which other newspapers across the country have done that where the guild remains very strong and the effect is minimal."
A new offer is expected from management on December 22.
"The Monday before Christmas," Tuft notes, adding, "People are pretty pissed off. I've never seen the union, the rank and file, this mad."
A Season on the Brink
The Sanford-Brown Indians split a pair of games last week to advance to 4-5, thus topping their win total for all of last season. After leading at halftime against the St. Louis College of Pharmacy last Tuesday, the Indians ended up losing 76-67 despite 18 points from shooting guard Gary Lenoir. The Indians then benefitted from record snowfall in the Columbia area to score a forfeit victory over Westminster College, which -- perhaps smartly -- elected not to pull its team bus out into a ten-inch tundra in Central Missouri. Sanford-Brown will play Concordia Seminary this coming Friday, December 19, 7:30 p.m. at St. Louis Christian College before breaking for the holidays. A victory over the priests-in-training would equal the cumulative win totals for Indians' previous two seasons, in which they went a combined 5-46.
Now You See It...
The headline in the early edition of the December 7 Post seemed straightforward: "Aboussie's Power May Be Waning."
The Sunday news story was a stem-winder by political scribe Jo Mannies about the trials and tribulations of political consultant Joyce Aboussie. Mannies examined the uncertain fortunes of the local kingmaker, who'd made national headlines for allegedly threatening retribution against two labor unions that had endorsed Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean rather than Aboussie's client, Dick Gephardt. With Gephardt and another prominent client, Missouri Governor Bob Holden, on the ropes in the polls and former St. Louis County Executive George "Buzz" Westfall dead by a wide margin, Mannies' analysis reckoned that Aboussie might well find the going rough in the my-way-or-the-highway department. The fact that the notoriously recalcitrant Aboussie actually spoke to Mannies was in itself an indication that the times are a-changing.
Curious, then, to find a different headline atop the same story in the Post's final Sunday edition: "What Lies Ahead for Aboussie?"
Gentlemen, start your conspiracy theories.
Mannies swats aside the notion that anyone outside the paper might have played a role in the change. But she declines to elaborate, other than to say she was aware of the change and concurred with it.
Sunday editor Margie Freivogel, though, says it was Mannies herself who initiated the change. "Jo thought the first headline tonewise didn't really reflect the story," says Freivogel, adding, "I tend to listen heavily to the reporter."
You Don't Know Dick
To express their frustration with what they see as Dick Gephardt's inactivity on the AIDS front, Washington University medical student Kao-Ping Chao and a dozen of his Harvard-of-the-Midwest classmates served Eggo waffles -- waffling, get it? -- to staffers and sang Gephardt-themed Christmas carols at the presidential wannabe's campaign headquarters in St. Louis this past Wednesday.
Chao says Gephardt is the only Democratic contender not to have offered up a substantive AIDS-prevention platform.
"Even though Gephardt may have a commitment to AIDS, he's waffling right now," says Chao. "If Gephardt is going to be a leader on AIDS, he has to have a real platform. Gephardt should be the leader on this, and not just because his daughter is gay."
Of the AIDS platforms he has seen, Chao, an active member of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), considers John Kerry's to be the best and Dennis Kucinich's the worst. But a platform is better than no platform, argues Chao, as indicated by the lyrics to his ensemble's Gephardtic version of "Silent Night":
Silent Gephardt, waffling Gephardt
Won't fight AIDS, with all his heart
All your rivals have definite plans;
Your words are tokens to quiet our demands
So sleep in heavenly peace
While nations succumb to disease.