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Times-Dispatch news staffers do battle with management over contract …

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Newspaper Union Sees RedLibby Hill Goes Hog Wild AgainFlu Fighters Get Late StartLily Sheds Light on LaughterCar Theft Suspect Chooses Ironic Parking Spot

Newspaper Union Sees Red

Upper management employees at the Richmond Times-Dispatch aren't ruffled in the least. They have their own contracts.

Chief officers and editors have witnessed 40 years of contract negotiations - some good, some bad - with the Richmond Newspapers Professional Association, the independent labor union that works to ensure fair and competitive employment contracts among non-management newspaper employees. This year the paper's negotiators expected more of the same.

But Jon Pope, an 11-year Times-Dispatch veteran reporter and president of the labor organization, says it's too late for negotiations to go smoothly.

The union comprises 160 full-time reporters and newsroom employees. Richmond Newspapers employs nearly 1,000 workers.

The RNPA contract expires Sept. 9. That means the conditions of the four-year-old contract will remain in place until a new contract is adopted. Pope contends it is being delayed because Frank McDonald Jr., director of human relations and lead negotiator for Richmond Newspapers, has declined to schedule a meeting since July 13, the only time the negotiators have met, when McDonald received a copy of the union's proposed contract changes.

Pope says he's attempted to set dates with McDonald on three occasions but has been told if he continues to call, his persistence will be dealt with as if it were a case of harassment. "It was stunning for me," says Pope. "The opening session hadn't been contentious. I don't understand this antagonism."

McDonald could not be reached for comment.

On Aug. 7, Pope filed an unfair labor practice grievance with the National Labor Relations Board office in Baltimore against Richmond Newspapers Inc. The charge asserts the newspaper is breaking the law by not arranging contract meetings, not paying employees regular wages for their time spent doing union-related work and by discouraging union-related e-mails and negotiating meetings held on newspaper premises.

All this is news to Bill Millsaps, senior vice president and executive editor for Richmond Newspapers. "I'm not aware of any complaint filed," he says. Although Millsaps is not part of the negotiations, he says he has been part of past discussions and is familiar with the process. "We're in negotiations and they're always difficult."

Pope says the labor organization has three requests: a merit increase and salary hike of 7 percent; adoption of Martin Luther King Day as an official holiday; and the start up of a management and development training program for minorities. "They've had their way with our union over the past decade," says Pope. "We've been very agreeable."

Pope doesn't want to think about RNPA's next step. It's unlikely it would create a need for union T-shirts and placards. "We're a small little independent union, we barely rock the boat," says Pope. "All we want is a new contract and decent salary."

Brandon Walters

Libby Hill Goes Hog Wild Again

Church Hill's celebrated hog just can't stay away.

Despite its relocation to Mayo Island two years ago and a return last year to a neighbor's back yard, High On the Hog, the annual rite of autumn for many Richmonders, left its heart in Libby Hill Park.

This year, it's back to reclaim it.

What began 24 years ago as an excuse for Church Hill resident Larry Ham to win over fans to his Carolina-style barbecue, HOTH has become the city's favorite word-of-mouth pig-pickin'. And thanks to the green light from 7th District City Councilwoman Delores McQuinn and the support of the Church Hill Association, the free event returns "Hogtober" 14 from 1 p.m. to sunset at Libby Hill Park in Church Hill.

"We're rolling right along," says Chuck Wrenn, one of the event's coordinators and the music man charged with lining up bands as zesty as the barbecue. "Right now we're in the planning stage."

The citywide tradition again will feature Ham's famous barbecue, soft drinks, and, of course, beer - the Church Hill Association is sponsoring the event's ABC license. Proceeds from food and beverage sales will benefit the Church Hill Crime Watch and the CHA.

Music galore likely will include a local gospel group to kick off the porcine roast and it's rumored the Wall O' Matics will take the stage before sunset.

It's all part of a plan to fatten the hog for 2001. "We're looking to reintroduce [HOTH] to the park this year and get the ball rolling," says David LeMay, president of the Church Hill Association. "Next year, for 25, we'll have quite a celebration."

B.W.

Flu Fighters Get Late Start

The stuffy-head, runny-nose, coughing, aching-body relief tens of thousands of Richmonders brave getting stuck for each year may not be enough to battle the upcoming flu season.

Still, nurses with the Instructing Visiting Nurse Association are ready to give it their best shot. They just have to wait until it gets here.

IVNA, which last year administered 18,000 influenza inoculations throughout the city, is holding its breath until the serum arrives.

"Normally we receive a shipment in mid-July," says Kerry O'Brien, director of community relations for the non-profit community-based health care organization. Typically, flu shots are given from mid-September through December. But this year, because of a new hard-to-grow strain of influenza known as A/Panama, manufacturers are having a difficult time producing the strain that, once killed, is used as a powerful antidote to ward off the virus.

O'Brien says shipments of the serum are expected to arrive in mid-October. Nurses then will start administering flu shots first to people identified as being at high risk for contracting the virus: people 50 and older, folks in nursing homes and hospitals, those with chronic diseases like diabetes or heart conditions, and women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

"The flu virus can survive in the air for 48 hours and can be passed by sneezing or coughing," cautions O'Brien. Too often, she says, people forget how contagious it is. It can be transmitted from one person to the next by using the phone or computer after someone infected with the virus.

Because of the delay and an expected shortage of the flu vaccine, the National Institutes for Health is conducting tests to see if the inoculation is effective at half the dose.

It likely will take weeks before the reliability of lowered doses is determined and months before the serum is delivered. O'Brien says corporations such as Philip Morris and Reynolds Metals — which depend on IVNA to administer flu vaccines to its employees - are getting antsy. "We're one of the biggest [flu shot] providers in the city. If we have a shortage and can't reach as many people in the community as we did last year, more people could get sick."

B.W.

Lily Sheds Light on Laughter

Lily Tomlin needs a good laugh.

Her career swells from them. And each new crack up excites her. But there's a serious side to Tomlin's silliness. Humor is a conduit not only for communication, but also for truth.

That's why the zany actress and comic who created the characters Ernestine, Tommy Velour and the unforgettable Edith Ann, has been chosen by the University of Richmond to explore the question: "Is truth in the eye of the beholder?"

The query, now in its second year, is part of Richmond Quest, an interdisciplinary campus-wide program that asks students and faculty to look at the big picture of how academics can bridge communities and promote public discourse.

"And That's the Truth! An Evening of Comedy with Lily Tomlin" takes place Monday, Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Robins Center at University of Richmond.

"We looked at a whole range of comics," including Billy Crystal and Steve Martin, says Kathy Panoff, director of the university's Modlin Center. "We wanted a performer who could address academic issues. Lily was a good fit." University of Richmond will confer an honorary degree upon Tomlin for her contribution to Richmond Quest 2000.

Tomlin will perform her sketch "And That's the Truth!" a half-hour of original material. A panel of humorists then will deliver individual snippets of arresting farce and field questions from the audience about the link between truth and comedy. The panel comprises Robb Armstrong, creator of the comic strip "Jump Start"; Ted Cohen, author of "Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters"; Larry Mintz, editor of the "Journal of the International Society for Humor Studies"; and Rick Reynolds, writer and performer of "Only The Truth Is Funny" and "All Grown Up … And No Place To Go."

"This is going to be the crown jewel," says Brian Eckert, director of media and public relations at UR. "What is the truth in comedy?" he asks. For one thing, he says, it pushes boundaries. "The court jester can insult the king to his face and no one else can."

Tickets are $20 will be available Sept. 7 at the Modlin Center Box Office, 289-8980.

B.W.

Car Theft Suspect Chooses Ironic Parking Spot

wenty-year veteran Richmond Police Officer Theodore Holman's first day on a new assignment, at the police department's headquarters, began with a strange sight: a pickup truck parked sideways across Chief Jerry Oliver's spot.

With the engine running, and no one inside.

Strange, Holman thought. He turned off the truck, took the keys and went back in to investigate.

Holman had the tag numbers run. Meanwhile, police spokeswoman Jennifer Reilly says, he found a man who claimed the truck was his and that he they had just run in to "pass on some information about a crime."

The man said he was sorry about parking in the wrong place.

Was he ever: the pickup came back as reported stolen, and within moments police arrested the man, accompanied by a passenger whom police believe knew nothing of the crime, and charged the man with stealing it.

"It just blew our mind," Holman says, calling the June 16 episode one of the silliest he's encountered in more than 20 years on the force. "I just haven't gotten over it yet."

Rob Morano

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