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
"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
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
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
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
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
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