Not many business stories
get the amount of news coverage given to the Teamsters' union strike
against the United Parcel Service (UPS). Network reporters could
have seized this opportunity to go into depth about the issues
involved in the strike.
Did they? Media Research
Center analysts reviewed every story about the strike on ABC's World
News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News between August
3 and August 12. There were a total of 43 stories during this study
period. For the most part, reporters frittered away the chance to
look in-depth at the strike, rarely going below the surface. For
example, two of the main issues of the strike were either
misreported or ignored by almost all reporters:
The networks made much of the plight of part-time workers at UPS.
Twelve of the 43 stories focused on the union complaint that UPS
relied too much on part-time help instead of full-time employees.
The Teamsters "want more full- time jobs and a limit on
subcontractors," reported NBC's Andrea McCarren on the August 3
Nightly News. "Part-timers now make up more than half of the UPS
work force." Several of these reports included profiles of part-time
workers who want to work full time.
But no story during the
study period pointed out, as did the August 7 Investor's Business
Daily, that many people want to work only part time, such as those
"who have other commitments like kids to raise or a full load of
classes." Specifically, none pointed out, as IBD did, that 42
percent of UPS part-timers are college students.
CBS Economics Correspondent
Ray Brady twice used the UPS strike as an opportunity to rail
against the economy in general for creating too many part-time jobs.
On the August 4 CBS Evening News, he reported that "across America
the number of part-time workers is skyrocketing." Brady focused on
workers who "have no choice" but to work part time. Then, in an
August 7 "Eye on America" report, he saw "signs of a backlash"
against this trend.
But as MSNBC Opinion Editor
Phillip Harper points out, "According to the Labor Department, a
full 80 percent of [part-time workers] aren't interested in
full-time work. These are students, retirees and housewives who are
quite content to put in a few hours at a service provider like UPS
and then spend the rest of the day in some other pursuit." This
number didn't make it into network stories about part-time work.
Only two network stories during the study period focused on the
company's desire to take over the workers' pension fund and the
union's resistance to this proposal. (One was by ABC's Jackie Judd,
the other was by Brady.)
No World News Tonight
reporter even mentioned the word "pension" until Judd's August 10
story, a week into the strike. Brady's story didn't air until August
12. NBC Nightly News didn't air a full story about the pension issue
during the study period.
For the first full week of
the strike, viewers didn't hear the argument that by funding the
Teamsters' pension operation, UPS is forced to subsidize the
pensions of non-UPS workers, many of whom work for far less
profitable competing companies.
"As UPS has been trying to
explain to its Teamster employees," the August 7 Wall Street Journal
editorialized, "the company could boost their pension payments 50
percent if they didn't have to subsidize the pensions of other
This is not to say that
there weren't any informative network stories or that all of the
reporting was pro-Teamster and anti- UPS. Nineteen stories profiled
companies that relied on fast shipping and thus were being crippled
by the strike.
NBC's Jim Avila, on the
August 5 Nightly News, used the strike to explain the emergence in
many businesses of "just-in-time inventory," and how this efficient
business practice depends on fast, reliable shipping. And some
reports mentioned that many workers wanted a chance to vote on the
UPS proposal, but weren't allowed to by their union.
But by neglecting some
important details about part-time workers and union-dominated
pensions, the networks missed an opportunity to tell viewers the
full story about the UPS strike.