Raising red cardboard signs with the words “just practicing” printed in white, more than a dozen Tribune Publishing Company employees marched outside the building Friday afternoon protesting the terms of a work contract unresolved for more than 21/2 years.
In what demonstrators called an informational picket, members of the Columbia Daily Tribune’s pressroom staff began circling the newspaper about 3 p.m. Friday to publicize their grievances, said Rodger Hall, secretary treasurer of the Graphic Communications International Union Local 16C Columbia.
The union and newspaper officials have been negotiating since spring 2001, Hall said. Since the previous contract expired in June of that year, the fate of workers’ pension plans has been unclear because the newspaper is recommending a switch to a 401(k) retirement package, which relies on the health of the stock market, Hall said.
“We’re doing this to let the public know what’s going on,” Hall said. “We’re disgruntled and we think they’re (the Columbia Tribune) trying to take this away from us every time we sit down at the bargaining table.”
Vicki Russell, associate publisher for the Tribune, said the company’s retirement program has lost 58 percent of its value this year.
“We have reached a point where we know they are not getting good value out of their pension plans,” Russell said. “We are proposing that they invest in our 401(k). We think it’s a sounder investment and has a lot of advantages not available through their pensions.”
The 45 pressroom workers also want to guarantee an additional 10 percent in pay for work on Sundays and hope to solidify a seniority clause that maintains fixed work schedules for veteran pressroom employees, Hall said.
The current battle is a problem pressroom unions face around the country, said Kurt Payton, a business representative from GCIU Local 16C.
“Most of the unions are fighting to keep their pension plans,” Payton said. “How can you choose between something that’s undefined and something that’s guaranteed?”
Pouring rain halted the picket line by about 5:15 p.m. Friday. Hall said GCIU’s Local 16C chapter is planning a meeting today.
Both Russell and the Tribune’s pressroom workers say they hope they can resolve the dispute at the next bargaining meeting scheduled for Oct. 8.
“I hope something comes of it,” Payton said. “This is a ridiculous issue. It’s an ego trip for the company.”