Vol XI, No. 34TNG/CWA Local 31041April 11, 2000

Work-to-Rule Vote Scheduled for April 26

The Guild membership will vote April 26 on a proposal to launch a work-to-rule program.

The work-top-rule effort is one of several actions that the executive board has outlined to help the union's position at the bargaining table

The Guild membership last January authorized the executive board to seek a union-wide vote on a work-to-rule effort.

  Throughout the workday, each of us does numerous little favors for the company. These extras aren't part of our jobs, but, out of pride of workmanship, we do them...

During the next two weeks preceding the vote, members of the executive board and other union leaders will meet one-on-one with members and in small groups to solicit feedback and ideas and to explain the union's thinking.

What is work-to-rule? It is doing your job, nothing less -- and nothing more.

Throughout the workday, each of us does numerous little favors for the company. These extras aren't part of our jobs, but, out of pride of workmanship and dedication to the craft, we do them anyway.

Done of our own choice, these actions enable the management of this company to put out a quality newspaper, on time. Most of us do these things without even really thinking about them.

Now it's time to look at them in a different light.

Here are some of the elements that the Guild thinks are important:

Work-to-rule places added pressure on the company by removing the good-will of its employees. This makes publishing the newspaper both more cumbersome and expensive.

When such a program is in force, workers carry out the letter-of-the contract, putting in a fair day's work and maintaining the high standards, which guarantee the newspaper's customers a decent product.

What's missing is that extra effort which is so essential to a complex operation like the newspaper, where Herculean efforts are needed to gather, write, edit and publish the news on schedule, to sell and produce ads, to keep the building clean, to make and process photos.

Sometimes, maddeningly methodical work habits are called for, in which workers take pains to cross all the t's and dot all the i's , rather than using the usual discretion that can streamline a complex operation.

Each of our jobs usually entails some extra effort.

When a salesperson rushes back to the office with a last minute advertisement.

When a copy editor spends 10 or 15 minutes roaming the building to track down a photo for a page.

When a reporter does three stories instead of two.

When a dictationist returns a weekend message left by a manager on an answering machine and agrees to work extra because someone is sick.

The company's managers assume we will do those things. It's time we started considering not doing them.

Work-to-rule is an alternative to a strike and an extremely serious undertaking.

And in many ways, it's harder than a walkout, because workers must struggle to put in a full work effort, but at the same time, hold back those unique contributions that they instinctively donate to the paper.

The idea is to show management just how important it is to have a highly-motivated, energized and willing workforce - sort of along the lines of that you don't know what's missing until it's gone.

Work-to-rule can be a highly-customized process.

What might be effective on the copy desk might not be for the janitorial staff. What makes sense to one worker enforcing his or her understanding of work-to-rule might not to another worker doing a similar task.

Also, work-to-rule can ebb and flow over the workweek: obviously in full-force one day, but more subtle the next -- with the company never knowing what department will act next.

What is important is that that all union members do something, so that, over time, that the program results in a cumulative drag on the newspaper's profitability.

In the coming days, the Guild Leader will suggest some specific ideas of how work-to-rule might be extended. These are suggestions, meant to get people thinking and to promote discussion on what is possible and desirable and what's not.

The goal is to make sure that we take an informed vote, and that if we do go ahead, we do so with a program that will be realistic and effective.

Here are some things we think that work-to-rule is NOT:

  • It is not a slacker's program. We propose an honest-day's work from everyone.

  • It should not be disrespectful to superiors or to the public.

  • It should not defy the laws of common sense. The efforts must be practical in the context of every department and every position.

Here are some things to keep in mind as the vote approaches.

The executive board believes that the company has forced the union into a fight for its very existence, that the tactics that Journal and the Belo Corporation are using are based not an economic disagreement with the union, but whether it can put the Guild out of business -- in effect silencing our collective voice.

And when we consider work-to-rule issues, we should consider what the company has done so far:

It has not provided a pay raise. But it has imposed a more expensive, less flexible medical plan. It has rolled out bonuses for other workers, but not the Guild. It unilaterally has taken away a paid holiday. It has gone to court to overturn and foil the arbitration process. It has stopped collecting dues in an attempt to bankrupt the union, and tried to encourage workers to quit.

It has refused to substantively discuss the union's concerns over troubled areas of the company's operations, such as advertising incentives. It has issued deceptive and bullying letters trying to scare the Guild into accepting an inferior contract. It has corrupted the fairness of the newspaper itself by refusing to honestly and fully cover the issues raised by this dispute.

Work-to-rule will not halt production of the paper. But when 500 people do it, work-to-rule will provide the ownership of this company a daily reminder of what it loses by trying to break us.

This fight will not be a cataclysmic battle.

It will be a long, drawn-out struggle of a hundred little encounters, of steady pressure inside and outside the building, to make management realize there is profit in treating their employees fairly.

The work-to-rule vote will be conducted during a membership meeting set for 12:30 p.m. April 26 at the Guild office, 270 Westminster St. 2nd Floor, in Providence.

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