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Printers' union chief, leader of a paralyzing 1963 strike, dies

Printers' union chief, leader of a paralyzing 1963 strike, dies

Bertram A. Powers, a former head of New York's newspaper printers' union who led a paralyzing 16-week strike in the early 1960s and later negotiated a contract that gained his members lifetime job guarantees, has died. He was 84.
Powers, who led New York's Local 6 of the International Typographical Union for 29 years until his retirement in 1990s, died in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. The cause was pneumonia, said his son, Brian A. Powers.
Known in labor circles as a tough negotiator who did not expect generosity from employers, Powers had been chief of the ITU local called "Big Six" for two years when he called its first strike in 88 years against New York's eight daily newspapers in December, 1962.
The principal demands were higher wages and a contract to expire at all papers at the same time, taking away the papers' key leverage in bargaining with 20 different unions.
The walkout shut down four papers and led to a lockout at four others, ultimately affecting some 20,000 employees before it ended on April 1, 1963 and landing him on the cover of TIME magazine.
Criticism of Powers came from many quarters, not least President John F. Kennedy, who said that the union and Powers, "insofar as anyone can understand his positions, are attempting to impose a settlement that could shut down several newspapers in New York and throw thousands out of work."
Brian Powers, a labor attorney, said being rebuked by a Democratic president he admired was "a bitter blow" for his father. The son said his father replied only that Kennedy had been "ill-advised."
The strike ended after the liberal-leaning New York Post broke ranks with other papers, and then-Mayor Robert F. Wagner stepped in to negotiate a settlement that included a pay and benefits package of $12.63 per week, $2 above what the papers had offered but about one-third of Powers' $37 a week demand.
When four of New York's dailies went out of business or were combined during the next five years, Powers was again blamed by critics, but he argued it had less to do with the strike than with the "national phenomenon of newspaper consolidation and attrition," Brian Powers said.
In 1974, Powers negotiated a 10-year contract that assured his members' lifetime employment and other job protections as newspapers converted printing from lead castings to "cold type," or computerized pages.
"He knew a deal had to be made ... that would use the last power of the union to assure an orderly transition in return for the promise of lifetime job guarantees," the son said. It became the "catalyst" for similar pacts across the country, according to the son.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1922, Bert Powers saw his father, a state trooper, lose his job during the Depression. After attending school through the 10th grade, Powers was working for the government's Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937 when he was hit by a truck, leaving him with a permanent limp.
His wife, writer and college professor Patricia Powers, died in 1988. He retired as Local 6 president in the mid-1990s and continued to live in New York until nine weeks ago when for health reasons he moved to Washington to be near his family.
In addition to Brian of Washington, D.C., he is survived by son Kevin Powers, of Buffalo, New York; two daughters, Patricia Inciardi, of Movato, California, and Moya Keating, of Chatham, New Jersey; three sisters and nine grandchildren.


Updated : 2021-03-08 11:45 GMT+08:00