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She takes credit, though, for two crucial decisions. It was she, and not Schneiderman, she insists, who rejected the request for union recognition by card check. "I know for a fact that some people in advertising didn't want the union," she says. "I'm for freedom of choice. Let's talk about the 15 people who didn't vote for the union. Suppose I said, 'You don't get a choice; we'll just go with what this group has asked for.' Part of living in a democracy is making a choice. You have a right to hear both sides of the argument."
The second decision was to hire the services of an employment-law firm she had worked with at the non-union carsdirect.com. "This was a union environment, which was new [to me]; I told them I'd need some legal assistance." And so she hired the firm of Littler Mendelson.
Littler Mendelson is known as an anti-union firm, so much so that when I called two attorneys who represented unions, they both blurted out, "Oh, you mean, 'Hitler, Mussolini.'"
Here's how Littler Mendelson handled the Weekly. First, the electorate was expanded way beyond the group petitioning for representation, adding the classified-ad reps and the promotions department. Management claimed it was just going back to the original 1995 group, but it is clear to me that they were included for the express purpose of their voting No. (The staffers at the Machinists lodge could have contested these expansions -- the Weekly writers who are officers of the local urged them to -- but they did not.)
Second, the company convened a mandatory meeting with all the workers eligible to vote. "I wanted people to have the facts," says Sestanovich. "People wanted to hear what the company had to say."
Third, in communiqués to workers, the company made a series of misleading, false and ridiculous claims. Prospective voters were reminded of all the benefits they already received. The fact that virtually every single one of these benefits emerged from union-management negotiations is, of course, nowhere mentioned. Other management materials depicted the union as alien intruders: "The IAM officers and representatives are an unknown," one leaflet read. "They want your money in the form of dues in order to support their business."
Some of the other management charges wafted in from cloud-cuckoo land. One cautioned prospective members that if they run afoul of union policies, they "are subject to internal union charges, trials and fines."
Finally, rounding out the repertoire, there was what the union attorney called borderline stuff -- job transfers, veiled threats, that sort of thing. One presumably pro-union employee was promoted to a management position (and hence out of the voting pool) that union backers insist isn't really at management level at all. Another presumably anti-union employee was leaving town for a new job; the union contested her right to vote, and management announced just before the election that she'd be paid to stay on another two weeks. The company also asserted that ad reps might lose what they'd earned under a union.
IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE VOTE, THE WEEKLY is a company with its nerves on edge. Ad reps don't speak to other ad reps; friends avoid friends.
A number of former Weekly officials see Schneiderman's hand in the decision to fight the union. "In his heart of hearts, he really dislikes unions," says one. "At The Voice, he's had decent relations with unions after the contracts are in place, but he's always been extremely aggressive during contract time; he loves playing the wild man." Says another, "David would talk with glee about how he tricked the union. He loved talking about how he extracted this or that from them."
Labor relations at The Voice have long been contentious (this year, the paper came within 24 hours of a strike). "At The Voice," says one former Weekly executive, "there's always been this clear divide between management and labor. Now that's been brought to the West Coast. The new publisher had no sense of what things had been like, and David's been pushing from the other end."
But why the push? Schneiderman heads a privately owned corporation whose owners shelled out an estimated $150 million at the height of the boom for this seven-paper chain. Then the downturn came; 9/11 wreaked havoc with the economy of southern Manhattan -- the neighborhood and significant ad base of The Voice. "He really wants to send a message to every paper in the chain," says one longtime associate. "And if driving this home means bringing the culture of The Voice out here, so be it."