Unionized staff members at New York's Village Voice are starting to play hardball with management as their contract nears its end at midnight on June 30. Last week they authorized a strike, should their demands not be met, and today they launched a new site that they'll be writing for, should the strike go through. The Real Voice, as it's called, will apparently be just like the Village Voice, written by its staffers, but not managed by Village Voice Media. The sticking point in the contract negotiations is, for the second time in a row, the question of cutting back employees' health benefits. A statement on The Real Voice has the union's side:

Over the past three years, the Voice staff has been cut by an estimated 60%, and average annual salaries have markedly diminished. Management has so far played hardball with the union, refusing to make an offer, while demanding extensive concessions from the newspaper’s staff, including a substantial, ever-increasing contribution to an inferior health plan, as well as the elimination of management’s own contribution to employees’ retirement accounts. The union membership sees the quality of their medical coverage as the critical issue. “That’s why I came to work here,” said one staff writer. “The health insurance is the one thing that made low wages bearable.”

After the union authorized the strike last Thursday, The New York Observer pointed out that a similar debate preceded the last contract signing: "During the last round of contract negotiations in 2008, the union fought down the proposal of a two-tiered benefits system which would grandfather existing employees in the good benefits package but offer a lesser model to new hires, asking, 'Why worry about the unborn?' Since then, management has used the benefits the union defended to lure new talent to the Voice." The Voice is the only union paper in the eponymous chain that operates it.  It was founded in 1955 by Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf, and Norman Mailer.