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The workers have changed, too, he reflects. Take the union, for example. When his grandfather and his father were running the business, organized labor played a role. Today, he says, the union, like the old composing room, is just another artifact from the past.
"If you walk down to the union and ask them for a [plate] stripper," Hirschfeld explains, "they would not be able to provide you with one. If you asked for a web pressman, they couldn't find one. The union has become an entitlement program. They haven't been sensitive to what it takes to earn their position."
He concludes: "This whole conflict with the union would seem to be out of character with the tradition of my family, and it's unfortunate. It's just a sign of the times."
It isn't the first time that Barry Hirschfeld has walked away from a family tradition. In the 1954 Sports Illustrated article, A.B. Hirschfeld revealed his baseball plans for the future. First, he said, he would like to run his streak of World Series attendances to 35. After that, he confided, he would turn over the streak to his grandson for him to maintain.
A.B. reached his goal, and his grandson, Barry, attended his first series in 1955. When the old man died two years later, Ed kept the streak alive. When Ed Hirschfeld passed away in 1984, however, the Hirschfeld World Series streak died with him. "I enjoyed baseball," says Barry. "But it just wasn't as compelling to me. I always preferred playing golf."
Although he denies ever saying the exact words, Barry Hirschfeld's friends say that he has a phrase that sums up the family's relationship with Graphic Communications International Union. It is: "My grandfather loved the union. My father tolerated the union. I hate the union."
Union officials will tell you that the beginning of the end for them came in 1984, when Ed Hirschfeld died and Barry became president. "I can't understand what happened between generations," says Larry Koopman, who worked at A.B. Hirschfeld for more than three decades as a stripper. "Barry's grandfather insisted that it be a union shop. He passed that on to Barry's father. Why is it the two or three generations who started the company can work with the union, and then along comes Barry?"
Indeed, until recently labor relations generally have been smooth at the printing company. A.B. Hirschfeld was a card-carrying member of the International Typographical Union. ("Labor relations," he told the Post in 1951, "is the science that the man who works isn't working solely for a paycheck. To a certain extent we must be our brother's keeper.") And although a strike stung the plant in the early 1960s, it was more a wildcat action designed to show off workers' muscle, according to longtime employees.
Even Barry concedes that relations between the Hirschfelds and the union have become strained only lately. "We have dealt with the union and considered them a partner up to the last five years," he says. "Since then, though, the union bosses have been counterproductive; they haven't been helpful."
One incident in particular grates him. Several years ago, Hirschfeld claims, the union attempted to steer business away from the family press after he attended a Republican Party fundraiser attended by President Bush, which he says the union leadership interpreted as hostile to them. ("Absolutely not," responds Paul Greene, secretary-treasurer of GCIU Local 440, which represents the A.B. Hirschfeld production workers. "I don't even know what he's talking about.")
Moreover, Hirschfeld says, "The union began taking us on for every little thing. It was a very confrontational atmosphere. We never used to have grievances filed. Now they're filed all the time. Things have changed, and they haven't been willing to change with them. And you can't negotiate attitudes."
Despite the increasingly sour relations between Hirschfeld and his organized workers, the more likely starting date of the current bad blood was the termination of the company's huge contract to print TV Guide. In 1981 the magazine selected A.B. Hirschfeld to print its regional edition for Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Kansas and Utah. The ten-year deal, worth millions of dollars annually, prompted the company to build a $10 million addition to its Smith Road plant.
By the beginning of 1990, however, TV Guide let Hirschfeld know that the contract was not going to be renewed. (Barry explains that the publication was cutting back on its regional printing strategy; some of his competitors have suggested that the quality of Hirschfeld's work was uneven.) The final edition of the Hirschfeld-printed TV Guide ran through the Smith Road presses in October 1992.
"That was a major hit for this company," Hirschfeld remembers. "It represented 20 percent of our volume and also a significant part of our profitability. That was a bleak day."
In preparation to help the company through the crisis, Hirschfeld negotiated a wage freeze with the GCIU in 1989. The contract expired last July but was extended indefinitely. Both the union and Hirschfeld agreed that the deal could be terminated with seven days' notice.
The extension deal was reached with the expectation that the two sides would soon hammer out a new contract. With A.B. Hirschfeld Press starting to rebound from the loss of TV Guide (in early 1993 the company signed a deal to print 500,000 Colorado Rockies programs; last November it snagged a $200,000 contract to print state income tax forms), union members say they had high hopes of a good deal.