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A National Labor Relations Board Judge reviewing Detroit Newspapers' firing of 90 strikers ruled last Friday that nearly half the workers were discharged illegally, according to an NLRB spokesperson.
A 156-page opinion issued by NLRB Administrative Law Judge Richard Scully ordered Detroit's two daily newspapers and the company that manages business operations for both papers to reinstate the strikers and reimburse them for lost pay.
An exact number of workers affected by the ruling was not available at press time. Rulings regarding the status of another 200 strikers also fired will be forthcoming. Nevertheless, the announcement was hailed as vindication by union leaders.
"This is what we have been saying to this community all along, that these newspapers are conducting themselves in a manner that is illegal," said Shawn Ellis, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Council of Newspaper Unions. The six newspaper unions went on strike in 1995. The NLRB previously ruled that the walkout was provoked by unfair labor practices instituted by the papers. After the unions issued an unconditional offer to return to work in February 1997, the NLRB ruled that strikers should be immediately rehired. But the papers have only brought workers back on an as-needed basis. They have refused to rehire workers fired during the walkout for alleged misconduct.
Ellis, who delivered newspapers to stores and street racks prior to the strike, was one of the strikers illegally terminated, according to Scully's ruling. Former Detroit Free Press columnist Susan Watson also was among the illegally fired strikers, according to the ruling. She could not be reached for comment.
Scully also ruled that the Detroit Newspapers legally fired another 35-40 workers. Ellis says those cases will be appealed.
Tim Kelleher, vice president of labor relations for the Detroit Newspapers said Monday he was unaware of the ruling
"Haven't seen it and can't comment on it," said Kelleher. "I will get on our attorneys and find out about it."
The Detroit Newspapers have 28 days to file an appeal, according to the NLRB. If they do appeal, the company does not immediately have to reinstate the illegally fired workers or pay them back wages. "I would hope the newspapers would take this opportunity to put some closure on this issue and to abide by what this community has asked for, which is to end this bitter, bitter dispute which has gone on for over 1,620 days," said Ellis.