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|| News Item: Posted 2000-12-20

The Strike Zone
By Rod Mar, Seattle Union Record

Photo by
Strike? To this sports photographer, that used to mean a baseball pitch somewhere above the knees, below the waist, and somewhere in the vicinity of home plate.

But now I know the REAL definition of a strike. The kind of strike that leaves 1000 workers temporarily without jobs, the kind of strike that costs paychecks during the holidays, and the kind of strike that divides newsrooms, departments, co-workers and friends.

I'm on strike. Along with nearly 1000 other union members, 300 of which are newsroom employees at either my paper, the Times, or the other paper in town, the Seattle Post-Intellegencer.

While I won't bore you with the details of why we're on strike (in short, the usual suspects -- money, respect, job security), I have been asked to share what it's been like to walk the picket line, instead of photographing it.

The strike affects both Seattle dailies since they are united in a Joint Operating Agreement. Employees of both papers are in the same union, and management of both papers is negotiating together. Which is interesting, since both papers are currently competing for the same readership since the Times moved to the a.m. cycle in March.

As with any strike, I'm sure, ours is filled mostly with bad news, with some good news, ugly news, and humorous news sprinkled in. I'll try to share some of the highlights.


Bad: Strike pay is $200.00 per week for the first three weeks, but then increases to $300.00 per week after that.

Good: Hey, how many jobs are there that give you a 50% raise after less than a month?

Ugly: It's still a fraction of what we were making.


Bad: The papers are still publishing, using managers and scabs.

Good: The striking union members have been producing our own publication, the Seattle Union Record (, which is available daily on the web, and in print three times a week. It's gotten a great response from readers, and was averaging nearly 300,000 hits daily by the second week.

Photo by
We've broken stories, beaten them photographically, and had a Week One story named to Brill's Content's All-American newspaper.

Ironic: Now we work on the same paper as our competitors. For the first Seahawks game of the strike, I joined with the P-I's Dan DeLong to shoot for the Union Record. Dan and I are friends, but we've competed against each other for the best shot at more games than we can count. He's a great sports shooter, and it was a blast to work side-by-side with him. Harley Soltes from the Times chipped in, and it was satisfying to see our double-truck in the Record, as compared to the Times' photo, taken by a picture editor forced to shoot because of the strike.


Bad: Seven of 17 photographers for the Seattle Times have become scabs. It has caused the photo department to be the subject of much disdain among union members both in the newsrooms as well as circulation and advertising. It has caused a division in a once-great photo department that won both a POY Best Use of Pictures, and the Angus MacDougall Photo Editing Award within the past decade.

Good: Ten photographers have remained loyal to each other and have stayed out, despite misgivings on the nature of the strike. With one exception, those still striking are the most senior members of the department, and the core of them are widely recognized as the best photojournalists at the paper.

Ugly: At least half-a-dozen of those still striking are considering leaving the Times.

Photo by Joanie Komura/Union Record

Photo by Joanie Komura/Union Record
Our "non-shooters" are better than your scabs: At a recent University of Washington women's basketball game, I assigned a women to shoot the game for the Union Record who isn't a staff photographer at the Times nor P-I. Joanie Komura works in circulation and freelances as a sports shooter for the University of Washington Athletic Department. One of the great things about the strike paper is that we have no restrictions on who can shoot what. Despite her being a great sports shooter, she could never shoot for the Times since she worked in circulation. She not only shot the game for the Union Record, but her shot as head-and-shoulders better than the one taken by a Times scab.


Bad: I have been by told by the Times I could be laid off. I have been told "there are 37 portfolios" on the photo director's desk. I have been told that if enough people return to work "the door could close" on anyone else thinking of returning to work. The last statement implying that in order to keep my job, I should race my fellow strikers to the frontdoor of the Times.

Good: What's good about any of that? Maybe that it's forced me to rethink my career at the Times? Hopefully someday things will return back to normal. Until then, there's plenty of time on the picket lines to contemplate the future.

Heartbreaking: I loved my job at the Times. As a sports photographer there, I had my dream job, working with great people every day, getting the chance to make good pictures and have them displayed well, and working in an atmosphere of respect and cooperation. As for the future...?


Photo by
The strike is not over yet, but at least the two sides have begun negotiating again. By the time this issue of Sports Shooter appears, the strike could be settled, we could still be on strike, or who knows?

What have I learned from this experience? That newspaper strikes are not about newspapering, or about good journalism. They're about power and money, both from the union's side as well as that of management. I also know that strikes hurt everyone involved. Emotions run high, personal limits are tested, and friendships can be lost. Ask anyone who endured the nightmare in Detroit.

Every day, though, I count my blessings. I am thankful for my wife and children, and for my health. I know things could be worse. In fact, every night I leave the offices of the Union Record, I see a man bundled up from the cold, pulling his sleeves over his hands, his hat tight over his head, as he curls up in the covered open air parking lot beneath the building to lay down to sleep. As with all photography and journalism, it's about perspective.

Still, for me, I can't wait for this to be over.

(Rod Mar, when he's not making photographs for the Union-Record, is a staff photographer at the Seattle Times. You can contact Rod at:

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