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Contract talks at Tribune drag on

Tampa Tribune executives are expected to negotiate today withrepresentatives of their unionized mailroom workers in an attempt to resolve a long-running contract dispute.

A major sticking point in the contract negotiations so far has been the union's attempt to establish benefits for part-time employees, according to union representatives. Separate contract negotiations between the Tribune and its unionized drivers also have snagged over benefits for part-time employees. Most of the unionized drivers and mailroom workers are part-time employees.

In addition, mailroom representatives complained that they are receiving less preferential treatment than other employees because many of their workers are black and female. For instance, unionized part-time drivers receive some vacation and health benefits, but part-time mailroom workers don't. The mailroom workers' new union is trying to change that.

"I can't say they (the Tribune) are discriminating against black

females," said Bob Cummins, Local 79, president of the Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, "but if it quacks and waddles like a duck, then it probably is a damn duck."

"That's definitely wrong and incorrect," said Richard F. "Red" Pittman Jr., the Tribune's publisher.

"I'll answer that by saying we have had contracts with other unions covering this particular group of employees since 1947," said Jerry Wright, the Tribune's director of personnel and industrial relations. "I think that speaks for itself."

But Tribune officials declined to discuss the contract discussions in detail.

"It's like being in a lawsuit - you just don't discuss your negotiations at this time," Pittman said.

Union leaders said Thursday that they are considering informational picketing if their concerns aren't soon addressed.

The mailroom workers have been negotiating since last April, when the Teamsters won an election to represent them. Teamsters officials are concerned that if they don't have a contract with management within a year of their certification, they could face decertification in a new election under federal labor rules. They complained that the Tribune is stalling.

"We're bargaining in good faith and we will continue to do so," Pittman responded.

The unionized drivers, who are represented by the Communications Workers of America, have been negotiating since August.

"I don't see this being settled anytime shortly," said John Vitale, president of the CWA local 14318.

The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Ashley Plaza.

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