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The Coming War At The San Francisco Chronicle:
Frank Vega, the Hearst Corporationıs new hit man arrives in San Francisco

by Steve Zeltzer

San Francisco, California
December 26, 2004

ON JANUARY 1, 2005, A NEW publisher will take over the San Francisco Chronicle. His name will soon become known to millions of Northern California residents as he  leads a vicious assault on San Francisco Chronicle newspaper workers. His name is Frank Vega.


Ten years ago this coming July 2005, is also the tenth anniversary of one of the longest strikes in the history of Detroit. Frank Vega and John Jaske, the architect of  the Gannettıs  national union busting policies had been brought in by  Gannett and  Knight-Ridder to do a job on the workers of the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News which were operating in a joint operating agreement JOA. That strike turned into the most bitter Detroit labor battles since the 1950ıs. It began on July 13, 1995 and lasted for over 2 1/2 years. The scars still remain for those workers and their families that fought this 20-month battle.

Paul Kulka of Teamsters Local 372 and a Detroit News worker recounted what they were offered at the negotiating table.
No arbitration rights
No collective bargaining rights
No pension contributions
No seniority rights
No contract
No union.

"They maimed picketers and fired peaceful demonstrators. They destroyed the Detroit News' circulation from 680,000 to as low as 200,000 paid circulation. They distort the truth and lie to the community."1 In one recent positive interview with Vega, his approach was lauded. "Frank Vega is tenacious. Regardless of receiving personal death threats, continuous harassment and the 'Darth Vega' nickname (which, to his enemies' dismay, he graciously adopted), he pressed on. He devised a contingency play for publishing the papers during the strike. The plan was so thorough and determined that when a flood of people blocked distributor trucks on Labor Day 1995, he managed to fly them out by chopper"2

When Vega showed up at the paper years earlier he had managed to convince the workers that if they made concessions he would make it up to them. This of course was  a lie but Vega seemed to have no compunction about making a lot of promises to workers about his good intentions. The workers  also were told by their union leadership that they could trust Frank. Nearly all were unprepared for the battle they faced. Over 1400 scab workers were brought in from throughout the country by Gannett and Knight-Ridder  and tens of millions of dollars were spent to break the back of the strike with armed Vance security goons backed up by the Detroit police as well as police from the suburbs.

Since the end of that war, Frank Vega has been trying desperately to get another job away from Detroit and the people he lied to, wounded and victimized. He tried to go to Tampa and other papers but always was locked out until December of 1995. He was appointed on December 17, 2004 by Victor F. Ganzi president and CEO of the Hearst Corporation and George B. Irish, President of the Hearst Newspapers to become the publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle is now in negotiations with the unions that represent workers at the paper.

A "Proven Track Record"

"Frank Vega has a proven track record as a top newspaper CEO," said Ganzi. "He brings all the vision and the discipline needed to take the Chronicle to new levels of excellence." This is quite a statement from these corporate mouthpieces since before the Detroit strike, the combined circulation had been 1.1 million copies and in the most recent circulation that ended on September 30, 2004, circulation was 710,000 a week.

However there were other "benefits" that Vega helped bring these media barons. According to John Morton of Morton Research, a veteran analyst of the newspaper industry, Vega "basically broke the strike in Detroit. It was a thing the agency almost overnight achieved that wouldıve taken them ten years to negotiate in terms of employment levels. That was a very significant accomplishment in Detroit."3

Of course Vega also has some other baggage that the Hearst bosses would rather not talk about. Last December, he was arrested in Florida on suspicion of drunken driving. In 1992, he pleaded guilty in Michigan to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor and in 1995, Vega denied any wrongdoing in an insider stock trading case that cost another Gannett executive his job. Vega paid $98,338 to settle the case against him.

Despite a labor march of over 100,000 workers to support the Detroit strike, the failure of the Teamsters, CWA, UAW and the AFL-CIO to use their massive power to bust these multi-national corporations was a defeat not only for the workers of Detroit but for workers nationally. It is also another issue that has not been raised in the recent debate within the AFL-CIO about why it is failing to organize. If labor cannot defend workers who are already in unions, how can they defend the millions of unorganized workers in the US?

San Francisco Newspapers, The JOA & The Unionbusters

The elimination of the Joint Operating Agreement JOA with the San Francisco Examiner. now sets the stage for the upcoming fight. That deal which eliminated the JOA cost the owners of the San Francisco Chronicle $60 million which it paid to the Fang family to take over the San Francisco Examiner and the pledge to the newspaper unions that it would carry the staff of both newspapers papers during the contract. The unions pushed for the local Democrats including Pelosi, Boxer and Feinstein as well as Willie Brown to get the necessary exemptions that would allow the elimination of the JOA. Now, the chickens have come home to roost. That contract with the newspaper bosses ends on July 1, 2005 and the Hearst owners are making serious plans to make massive cuts in the workforce at the San Francisco Chronicle.

At the same time, a notorious stock manipulator and rightwing union buster named  Phil Anschutz bought out the Fangs who owned the San Francisco Examiner  for a reported $20 million. Anschutz had scammed millions of dollars from stockholders at the Quest telephone company which he owns and is the leading stockholder of Union Pacific and Overnight. The Teamsters in fact had fought a losing battle to organize Overnight and it had been charged with hundreds of labor violations, which brought it the well-deserved reputation as the biggest union buster in the US. The Hoffa Jr. administration unfortunately refused to fight Anschultz and Union Pacific directly and as a result, this critical union organizing drive was lost. The Examiner workers are still also battling to protect their union rights in San Francisco

Hearstıs Cries of Anguish & Poverty

Working people and the public in the bay area should now expect a propaganda blitz by the corporate media that the San Francisco Chronicle has to pare back in order to survive and the only solution is for the workers to make the sacrafices. They actually will have many economic arguments in its favor if you accept the corporate mentality. The collapse of the dot com bubble has been an economic disaster for the Chronicle. Advertising plummeted and at the same time the internet has devastated jobs, housing and auto advertising in newspapers. More people now go on the Internet to get their jobs, cars and houses. Advertising income has dropped from $70 million to $17 million a year.

The unions should demand that if the Hearst corporation canıt run the paper to make a big enough profit they should turn it over to the workers to run. Like the airline industry, more and more workers in industries such as the newspapers are finding out that there is no place for  unions in the new world order.

One plan that may also be in the works is for Vega to bust the unions here in San Francisco and then for the Hearst corporation to dump the paper. After a successful effort to eliminate 30 to 40% of the workers this would again make the paper a hot property for these media monopolies.

All in all, this will be a major labor war and test of labor power in the bay area. Unfortunately, an officer of the union that represents workers at the Chronicle seems not to be worried about Vega and the coming battle when the contract expires on July 1.

"Iıve read about that stuff. Iım not necessarily alarmed. It would be unwise of Hearst to send someone in here to cause problems in light of their other troubles," said Doug Cuthbertson, executive officer for the Northern California Media Workers."

Cuthbertson in the previous strike sent the Guild workers back to work before the Teamsters and the GCIU which represents the printers had a signed agreement and this had created havoc for those unions. Despite his track record, he still remains president of the Conference of Newspaper Unions. His recent nonchalant attitude of the importation of Vega is also a serious problem for the workers at the Chronicle.

While there are difficult times facing San Francisco newspaper workers, if they prepare for this battle they can win it. In the last strike, November 1994, the unions had organized ahead of time and unlike Detroit, they were able to impede production at the Chronicle printing plants and also mobilize the community. They had mass picketing at the Cesar Chavez St. plant and made things so painful for the Chronicle bosses that they were unable to make the major cuts that they wanted.  San Francisco also has a law making it illegal to bring in professional strike breakers that was passed during the Shelly administration but has not been enforced either by Mayors Frank Jordan, Art Agnos, Moscone, Willie Brown or Gavin Newsom. In the Castro, scab newspaper trucks with goons were literally chased out of the community. That strike was also orchestrated by the union busting law firm of King and Ballow. This law firm specializes in conspiring to evade and violate labor law in newspaper fights around the country.

Another of the lessons of the Detroit strike and the past San Francisco strike was the need for a pro-labor unionized replacement newspaper. In Detroit the Sunday Journal http://members.aol.com/dnarag/all_frmst.htm was established and in the last San Francisco strike in 1994, the San Francisco Free Press were established http://www.well.com/conf/media/SF_Free_Press/. These papers were crucial in getting the news out. The need for a labor run and worker controlled newspaper is a vital tool in these battles and the AFL-CIO instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Kerry and other Democrats would have far more to gain by investing in such papers. The CWA, Teamsters and other unions have very little time before the contract expires. It will require not only a local effort but a  national effort now to make sure that Vega does not do at the Chronicle what he successfully did in Detroit.

1.Voices of The Strike, George Waldheim ISBN 0-966-2031-0-0
2. MSJ.com Frank Vega ­ Not Your Everyday CEO
By Martin Vargas Published: Monday, March 19, 2001
3. Free Press December 18, 2004 Newspaper Agencyıs CEO Says heıll retire

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