Vol XI, No. 20

TNG/CWA Local 31041

February 10, 2000


Today, most provisions of the Guild's contract remain in force.

Further, the company is still required to collect dues through convenient payroll withholding, and Guild members are still supposed to pay dues

If this sounds contrary to what the company told union members in its Feb. 8 notice, declaring that union security provisions and dues check off are not longer in force because the contract expired Feb. 1, it is.

What gives? The problem, simply, is that the company is breaking law. And it's playing fast and loose with the contract and with the truth.

The company has given only part of the picture about the current state of negotiations, avoiding discussion of legal and contractual protections that support the union's position.

It is outrageous for the management of the sacred trust that is a newspaper to so misinform its employees - in writing.

What follows is the Guild's best information about the current status of the contract and of negotiations, in Q & A form.

QUESTION: Has the contract been terminated?
ANSWER: Yes. The one-month extension of the contract's Dec. 31, 1999 term, expired at the end of January.

Q: What does that mean?
A: The no-strike clause is no longer in effect, and, although the Guild can file new grievances, it cannot take them to binding arbitration. Other than that, federal law says that the "terms and conditions" of the contract remain in force, including wages and benefits and other protections.

Q: Can the company fire me, or take other disciplinary action against me just because the contract has not been extended?
A: No, nothing has changed. The company is still required to abide by the terms and conditions of the contract, and that includes important disciplinary protections that say the company can take action against workers only for "just and sufficient cause," a legal phrase that has firm legal meaning about treating people fairly.

Q: But the company already has changed some provisions of the contract. It's put new health benefits in place, taken away a holiday, delayed vacation entitlement. Why is it able to do that?
A: Legally, it can't. But like a speeder doing 85 in a 55 mile-an-hour zone, or a burglar crawling through a window in a house, the company has chosen to deliberately break the law, at least until the cops are called.

Q: Who are the cops in this case?
A: The National Labor Relations Board and professional arbitrators. The Guild has filed unfair labor practices with the NLRB, saying the company is bargaining in bad faith, making one-sided changes in the contract and engaging in "direct-dealing" with individual union members rather than negotiating with the Guild.

Further, before the contract expired, the union filed for arbitration on some of these same points, meaning that an arbitrator can find the company violated the contract.

These are among the unfair labor practice charges and grievances the company demanded be dropped as a condition for accepting its latest offer, which was rejected by the 354 to 28 vote last week.

Q: When are we likely to get rulings?
A: The labor board's Boston office could issue a preliminary ruling by March or later. Appeals could take longer. Arbitration typically takes about a year.

Q: What's to stop the company from breaking the law or the contract in the meantime?
A: In urgent cases, the union can turn to the courts, rather than to arbitrators, for help.

Q: What could change the current situation?
A: The negotiations at some point can reach a point of "legal impasse," when it is determined that there is no chance of reaching agreement through further bargaining.

Q: What happens then?
A: The company is allowed to impose all or part of its bargaining proposals, although it cannot worsen its offer. All other aspects of the working conditions remain in effect until there is an agreement.

Q: Who determines whether legal impasse really has happened?
A: The officials at the NLRB, based on their investigation of the negotiations, something they've been doing since the first labor charges were filed by the union.

Q: The company, in its letter, said that negotiations are at impasse. Are they?
A: No. The Guild disputes the company's view, and is ready to continue to negotiate. The union also believes that the company illegally declared selective impasses when it imposed the new health plans, and later when it put other provisions into effect.

Q: The company said that "the union security provisions, dues check off and arbitration provisions are no longer in effect." What is the case?
A: The statement is incorrect as to union security - the portion of the contract that requires workers to pay dues to the union - and to dues check off, in which the company collects dues through payroll deduction and forwards the funds to the union.

Q: What is the case with union security?
A: A special section of our contract requires that employees continue to pay dues through the NEXT contract. That provision remains in force. Here's what Memorandum of Agreement No. 8, section 11, says: "The provisions of Article II, Section 5 in the News and Advertising Agreements shall be continuously in force, to the extent permitted by law, from the date of this Agreement until expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement which succeeds the current Collective Bargaining Agreement."

Q: The company says that bargaining unit members "are free to join or not join the Guild." Is this true?
A: Yes. And that's the case even when the contract is in effect. Under U.S. Supreme Court rulings, unions and companies can agree only to an agency shop, in which employees are required to pay a fair share of dues to keep the union operating. But they aren't required to actually join.

Q: So what's the case with dues check off?
A: The Guild believes that legally, the check off provisions remain in effect, both under terms of the contract, and under terms of the individual agreements members have signed authorizing the company to collect dues through payroll withholding. Those forms contain narrow windows in which the authorizations can be withdrawn, 15 to 30 days before expiration of the contract or 15 to 30 days before the anniversary of an individual signing of the check off form.

Q: Since the company has declared that it will improperly halt dues check off, what will the union do?
A: The union will set up programs to make payment of dues as convenient as possible. The union is planning to make the collection once a month. Dues payment, as we noted, is still required as a condition of employment, despite the company's statement to the contrary.

Q: Given the company's conduct, what will the Guild do now?
A: In addition to pursing the legal challenges, the union will schedule rallies, and develop a program to put economic pressure on the newspaper, in an effort to persuade the company to reach agreement for a new contract.

Q: Does this mean that the union will go on strike?
A: Not yet. The executive board has not called for this very serious step, which can only be taken if a majority of members voting decide to do so.

Q: What is the Guild to make of the company's actions?
A: The union believes that the company understands that its members are committed to the union. In past years, when members could quit the union, very few did. And last week's vote shows deep support for obtaining a good contract. In light of that, the company seems to be trying to interfere with the Guild's ability to raise money to run the union.

Overall, the company is showing little regard for the law or its workers.

In Schick's words: "The company is displaying utter contempt for federal labor law, for the Guild and for its employees. It is clear that the company is not interested in seriously discussing the concerns of its employees, but is intent on doing whatever it damn well pleases."

Copyright © 2000 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495