OUR HOLIDAY installment of "Scab Watch" brings news that high-profile Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur has crossed the picket line. In a phone conversation with Brodeur on December 22, she confirmed that after 20-plus days on strike, she was heading back into Frank Blethen's fold. (Just in time, too, as the Times owner is now threatening to fire the strikers.)

Brodeur also let us know that she felt our inquiries about her decision to cross the line were "personal questions." Personal? This from a woman who interviews the families of suicides and plane-crash victims? ("So, your son is dead. How's it feel?") Well, we have the temerity to believe that Brodeur's decision, however personal, is also newsworthy.

Brodeur's decision highlights the problematic class divisions that have plagued this strike from the start. A much higher-paid employee than the beat reporters, ad reps, and drivers walking the line, Brodeur most likely has little to gain financially from the strike. It's doubtful that the columnist, recruited from North Carolina's News & Observer two years ago, is working for union scale. Second, her decision is a bad omen for a union that relies on high-profile (and well-paid) writers as spokespersons. When a Sunday columnist like Brodeur crosses the picket line, other big-name writers may feel more comfortable becoming scabs, leaving low-paid no-names to walk thinning picket lines.

And, if Times owner Frank Blethen gets his way, permanent "replacement workers" will join Nicole "Scab" Brodeur at his paper. Blethen declared on December 19 that strikers would be replaced--permanently and immediately.

His only hurdle is the pending ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild has filed charges with the NLRB alleging that Times management has threatened and intimidated striking employees. It's only illegal for Blethen to permanently replace striking workers if it's proven that management also illegally intimidated strikers. If the guild cannot prove that charge to the NLRB, Blethen is free to play Scrooge.

However, if the guild is proven correct, the NLRB could force the Times to take back all of the strikers after a contract settlement is reached. The scabs would be put back on the street.

But cynics say Blethen can win regardless of the NLRB decision. The publisher can always appeal, thus tying up the whole bitter entanglement for several months. That's not encouraging news for strikers looking for ways to feed themselves and their families.

What's Blethen trying to achieve? With his tough line, most agree he's trying to drive the guild out of his building forever.

Speculation also has it that he's not just trying to nix the union to end the strike, avoid collective bargaining, or avoid future strikes. Blethen may be trying to make his paper union-free as a way to up its street value to corporate suitors. By offing the union, Blethen could fetch a hefty price for his paper from Knight Ridder--which already owns 49.5 percent of the business. Blethen knows Knight Ridder is interested in buying him out, because Knight Ridder made an offer at a Seattle Times board meeting on October 18. Blethen, evidently not getting a good price at the time, turned down the offer.

As we've said before ["Scab Watch" Stranger News Staff, Dec 7 & Dec 14], workers who cross the picket line (SCABS) are helping management's cause--whatever its agenda--to outlast the newspaper guild.

With that in mind, our scab list continues. This holiday installment of "Scab Watch" includes nearly 20 new names confirmed by their striking colleagues. Obviously, we attempted to contact everyone named here. In several instances we did not receive return calls. As a result, we brought our list of new names down to the Times and presented it to Seattle Times spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin, so she could give people a fair chance to respond. Coughlin would not look at or accept the list.

Phil Campbell and Pat Kearney contributed to this report.

josh@thestranger.com

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