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Striking Workers Again Delay Distribution of Newspapers

September 5, 1995

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) _ Police in riot gear fired pepper spray and tear gas to disperse striking newspaper workers who blocked replacements from entering a printing plant Monday. It was the second time during the Labor Day weekend that strikers delayed distribution of the paper.

More than 100 police, most of them in riot gear and carrying shields, clashed with at least 300 protesters over several hours outside the Detroit Newspapers printing plant. But by 2:20 a.m. Tuesday, police had chased all the protesters from the area.

Police fired canisters of pepper gas, but for several hours that failed to scatter the pickets. Around 11:40 p.m. police began using tear gas.

The protesters, some of them wearing gas or surgical masks, pelted police with rocks, sticks and debris. Several fanned their picket signs in an attempt to blow gas and pepper spray back at officers.

Similar exchanges occurred several times into the night before the pickets began dispersing around 12:40 a.m. Tuesday.

That was about the time about 20 trucks with more than 450,000 copies of Tuesday’s combined edition of The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press made it out of the plant _ most through a back gate _ after a delay of several hours, said Detroit Newspapers Vice President Susie Ellwood. That is about half the average number published since the strike against the newspapers began July 13.

She said pickets pushed a security guard beneath the line of trucks heading out of the plant. One truck ran over the man, breaking both of his legs, she said. He was taken out of the plant by helicopter.

Two injured protesters were treated at the scene, broadcast reports said. At least three people were arrested, police said.

One delivery truck was destroyed by a fire.

Police Chief Thomas Derocha said one officer was take to a hospital after being struck on the arm by a piece of cement. The injury apparently was not serious, he said.

Between confrontations, the protesters taunted police and milled about the street as passing cars sounded their horns in support.

``I was just standing there, just holding my ground, like everybody else, and they sprayed their pepper spray and it got in my eyes and my mouth and I couldn’t breathe,″ said John Prainito, 31, a striking mailer. ``I thought I was having a heart attack.″

Inside the plant, security guards wearing riot gear lined the front gate. Some protesters ran at the gate, trying unsuccessfully to knock it down.

As the crowd broke up, two buses, two vans and three cars finally moved into the plant about 12:50 a.m. Tuesday.

Although far fewer protesters were involved, the scene was reminiscent of Saturday when more than 3,000 union members rallied outside the plant and delayed delivery of Sunday editions of The Detroit News and Free Press by nearly 12 hours.

``At what point do you stand by and watch riots in your street night after night?″ the police chief said. ``We’re going to continue to use whatever tactics we need to break this thing up tonight.″

Earlier Monday, striking newspaper workers touted their efforts Saturday in a massive rally with thousands of other union members.

James P. Hoffa, who had announced his candidacy for Teamsters president, urged members of the six striking unions to remain strong.

``This is true labor here,″ Hoffa said of the rally, which followed the city’s Labor Day parade. ``This is where the fight’s at _ the newspapers.″

Joe Swickard, a striking Free Press reporter and spokesman for The Newspaper Guild of Detroit Local 22, said he was encouraged by the union showing during the Labor Day weekend.

``We are going to get a fair and reasonable contract,″ Swickard said. ``We are not going to be deterred.″

Detroit Newspapers handles business and printing operations under a joint operating agreement for Knight-Ridder Inc.’s Free Press and The Detroit News, owned by the Gannett Co. Inc. Before the strike, the two papers published separately during the week and a combined edition on weekends; since the walkout, a combined edition has been published all week.

The Free Press and its newsroom workers were scheduled to meet again Tuesday. No talks were set for the News.

Last week, the Free Press made a proposal that the Newspaper Guild did not take to it members; the union offered a counterproposal that management rejected.

``We had very tough bargaining Wednesday and Thursday. I would foresee that continuing. That’s the only way we’re going to get a settlement is that hard work,″ Swickard said.

The strike began July 13 when six unions representing about 2,500 workers walked off their jobs, mostly over wages and work rules. Their contracts had expired April 30 and been extended day by day until July 2.