We know a spoof when we see one. All we could do was laugh when the invitation came in the mail to enter the Mother Jones sweepstakes.
The manila envelope with the little plastic windowpane lies on our desk right now as we write. A clump of thick black type cries out:
Why won't Ronald Reagan
be happy to learn
that you (of all people)
have won this prize
in our sweepstakes?
The "you" is underlined. A black hand points to our name in the plastic window.
Pretty funny, eh? The tip-off that it's a gag is the idea of the president learning anything about anybody, or getting upset if he does. The Ronald Reagan we know and love would tell himself, "Golly, this Chicago fellow may have won some kind of thingamabob, but I've still got the Army, Navy, and Air Force."
Anyway, we rifled around inside our manila packet and the usual dozen enclosures fell out. We found the one that explained the joke on the envelope.
"Ronald Reagan won't be happy to hear you've won.
"Why won't he be happy? Because, in addition to giving away thousands of dollars in prizes (to winners like you), MOTHER JONES magazine will also donate $1000.00 CASH to each cash prizewinner's favorite charity!
"And knowing our subscribers, the charities you select will probably be the same ones Reagan has been trying to destroy!"
We never fail to be touched by appeals that begin, "Ronald Reagan is trying to wipe us off the face of the earth. Please rush $50." And seeing that we'd "definitely won $5000 CASH, $3000 CASH, $1000 CASH or other prizes in the MOTHER JONES Second Decade Sweepstakes," we wondered if the president would fall for some reverse psychology.
Let's find out. Our charity is the Ed Meese Defense Fund.
We dialed the magazine. A young lady answered. First she dressed us down on our lack of ethics--she'd caught on we were taking notes--then turned us over to the man who could answer our questions.
"It's dramatically increased our circulation," said assistant publisher David Assmann. "It tells you people on the left respond to sweepstakes just as well as other people do."
To be more precise, the number of progressives buying a subscription has climbed from 2 percent during the old direct-mail campaign to somewhere closer to 3. Which isn't trivial: the new response is 30 to 40 percent greater than the old. "When you mail three million pieces a year, it adds up," Assmann told us.
We put to him the $64 question: OK, so what prize do we really get? He said they'd send us a "hellraiser" notepad or an 80-page booklet, "The Best of Mother Jones."
We were certain. The whole thing was a damn fine joke.
"There's been a range of reactions," Assmann said. "A lot of people are surprised we're doing a sweepstakes."
Do many of them find it droll? we suggested confidently.
Droll, we said.
"No," said Assmann. "I wouldn't say we've gotten that response."
OK, but if it had been a joke, we'd have caught on immediately.
The leaders of the printers who 32 months ago struck the Chicago Tribune speak today with the dug-in, bitter tones of men too long at war.
The Tribune is willing to spend $7.8 million to get the printers out of its hair. The Tribune pledged this money, which would provide $500-a-month lifetime annuities for each jobless printer, last October after seven months of mediation.
This offer was part of an oral agreement, produced under the auspices of mediator W.J. Usery, that was generally hailed as a settlement. "I'm not happy about losing a lifetime job guarantee," Dave Donovan, president of Local 16, Chicago Typographical Union, told us, "but I'm going to vote for this contract."
A few differences remained at that point, but they all seemed bridgeable. However, they were not bridged. Not until mid-January did the union negotiators decide they'd been offered a written contract fit to submit to the rank and file, and they submitted it without recommendation. (Donovan was not on the negotiating team.)
The vote was January 31. The contract was rejected by the astonishing margin of 284 to 51.
Why? "It was your typical yellow-dog contract," we were told by Steve Berman, vice-president of the local and head of the union negotiators. "The company had all the rights, you had none, and it was a one-year agreement, so in 90 days you'd have to start negotiating all over again. Now we've been without a contract and negotiating since October 1982! Nobody in their right mind would approve this piece of shit. We'd have to drop our lawsuits, everything, and start all over again."
Berman went on, "I don't want to go through the courts. I want to settle this for my people. They're hurting--the average age is 59 years old. I want something fair and equitable. Nobody anticipated it would go down five to one, with everybody out there starving to death. But some guy says, Steve, are you meaning to say they take in 45 or 50 scabs and I can't get my job back! And I get $60,000 in an annuity and that's my back pay and what am I going to do next? You know what they said?--No! They said no five to one. They said, keep your money, we'll go the whole ten yards."
A big reason the offer went down so resoundingly is that 181 Sun-Times printers who voted--as was their right--almost certainly opposed the contract to the last man. They feared one of those details that never got bridged--a "favored nations" clause in both papers' labor contracts that protects either from paying a given craft any more than the other does.
The Tribune's proposal was three-pronged: the 57 union printers it took back two years ago, when Local 16 formally ended its strike, would draw more than $17 an hour; the scab printers alongside them would continue to get several dollars less; the 120-some printers who'd been locked out would get annuities.
The management of the Sun-Times asked the National Labor Relations Board to make Local 16 share the details of this "agreement." Donovan told us his response was "I don't have an agreement." He said the Sun-Times has made it clear it means to slash its own printers' wages and benefits to the level of the Tribune's scabs.
Of course, they would be scabs no longer if the local came to terms. They'd be employees free, but not obliged, to join the union, a prospect that many Local 16 printers find intolerable.
W.J. Usery was asked a year ago by U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen to try to settle this dispute outside of court. Local 16 had filed suit the previous summer, alleging that in February 1986, when the local called off its strike and the Tribune refused to take back most of the strikers, it was violating a 1975 agreement offering composing-room employees lifetime job security.
Early last month, a few days after the crashing defeat of Usery's supposed agreement, the adversaries returned to Aspen's courtroom to take stock. The union's lawyer said Local 16 regarded mediation as over, but Aspen asked both sides to give Usery another chance.
"If you can negotiate without him, stick him in a corner," Aspen said. "And if you need him, ask him to come out of the corner and help you. . . . I think there's absolutely no question that you wouldn't have gotten this far without his work."
"The judge has a total misconception of the whole process," Berman said, "and that's the fault of the mediator. Usery kept ignoring what the union was telling him and misleading the company as to what it would take to settle."
(Usery, and also Tribune officials, declined to be interviewed for this article.)
A week ago, Berman, Donovan, and other Local 16 leaders flew to Washington and met with Usery. The mediator said he'd be in Chicago March 7, and the printers said they'd give him a proposal then that he could take to the Tribune. They also visited Morton Bahr, president of their parent union, the Communication Workers of America. The CWA, which at least formally is backing Local 16 all the way, recently picked up Usery's bill of nearly $90,000.
"If this was resolved, that wouldn't be a lot of money," Berman told us. "Since it isn't resolved, it is."
The next court date is March 18. Unless the wind shifts direction dramatically, there might be nothing in sight when that day is over but trial. Even though almost no one wants one.
"I'm trying to lead and they're not listening to the call," Dave Donovan told us. "The judge said, there's 7.8 million dollars on the table and I don't know if you'll do any better than that. If you go to trial it'll be three years and I don't know which side will win and whoever loses will appeal and it'll be another two years."
Donovan said, "I was trying to get that across to the membership, subtly, gently--that in five years they might wind up with zip."
The membership wasn't persuaded.