Vol XI, No. 35TNG/CWA Local 31041April 12, 2000

Journal Sues Guild - Again

Suit Continues Company Efforts to Duck Arbitration; National Union to Fight Dues Checkoff Dispute

The company has filed a second lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Guild, this time seeking an order that would block arbitration about the newspaper's cancellation of payroll dues collection.

The Guild will fight this attempt, because the union believes that arbitration is warranted by the company's improper ending of dues checkoff.

This is the second time that the company has resorted to court action in an attempt to duck arbitration and its consequences.

In bringing these lawsuits, the company is attempting to attack the Guild treasury by increasing the union's legal costs.

However, the national union - The Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America - is picking up all the local's legal bills, and has assigned its general counsel to defend us.

The new lawsuit was filed April 3.

In February, the company filed in District Court seeking to overturn an arbitration award that the Guild won after the company improperly denied access by some union members to Journal parking facilities.

The Guild views both lawsuits as the company's attempt to waste the union's time and money, as well as to escape its obligations under the contract.

These unusual lawsuits also belie the company's professed aversion to fighting things out in court.

In his March 7 letter to union members, Mark T. Ryan, a company senior vice president, stated that the company had proposed settling grievances because "we prefer to negotiate rather than litigate."

But the company is abusing the legal process.

It violated the contract when it cut off dues and denied parking, but when it lost the parking case it ran to a judge. Now, when it is challenged on the checkoff termination, it again runs to a judge -- to prevent resolution of the dispute.

The company maintains that it was able to halt payroll dues collection because the contract expired Jan. 31; and further, that the union can't seek arbitration of grievances because of the terminated contract.

In a 1977 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a grievance is arbitrable although it arose after the termination of the contract, where the grievance was based on a right that arguably accrued prior to contract termination. The union believes the wording of dues checkoff form clearly anticipates it remaining in effect after contract expiration.

In its court papers, the Journal argues that it "will be irreparably harmed by being required to litigate in an improper forum," and asks that a preliminary and permanent injunction be issued to block the arbitration.

Lesson from New York

A paper apologizes to Rhode Island readers

Last week, a respected daily newspaper wrote to its Rhode Island readers to apologize for delivery problems that persisted after the paper thought it had had them licked.

"I am writing once again to acknowledge that we let many of you down and to apologize if you suffered any inconvenience or frustration," the letter said.

Sadly, this was not sent by The Providence Journal.

The April 7 letter, received by Rhode Islanders who get home delivery of The New York Times, was signed by Scott Heekin-Canedy, senior vice president for circulation.

"Dear Subscriber," he wrote. "Abraham Lincoln said `We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot.'

"This is a caution that I have learned all too well. Many of you wrote or called to tell me the same, albeit somewhat differently and sometimes more colorfully and President Lincoln said it.

"In December I wrote to acknowledge the problems we had been experiencing in our Customer Care operation and to tell you that they were behind us. In fact, for a significant minority of you, our service did not improve, but rather seemed to worsen because of the high volume of holiday calls."

There seems to be a contrast here to the Journal's approach to its circulation problems that overwhelmed the paper at the beginning of the year, although they now seem to be abating (although not disappearing entirely).

We know that the Journal certainly did not write about these problems in the paper, either in terms of a news story or a notice-to-readers.

Those of us who subscribe to the paper do not recall receiving letters from newspaper executives, although some have received letters from individual deliverers to the effect "don't blame me."

The Journal's lack of candor is one of the major crises at the newspaper, which seems to have abandoned its obligation to honestly inform its readers and its customers of problems that related to its business.

Although The Wall Street Journal has written about the crisis, The Providence Journal has not. Channel 6 did a piece. Other media have touched on it.

At the same time, The Journal has aggressively pursued operational problems about other businesses, namely the varied start-up problems suffered by Sovereign Bank, and some technical problems by Cox cable television.

These are legitimate stories and should be covered.

But the Journal editors' willingness to air the dirty linen of other companies, while ignoring similar issues at their own paper is a critical failure of journalism ethics.

This cover-up approach to Journal business extends to the newspaper's non-coverage of its contract dispute with the Guild.

The most outrageous example was the paper's failure to appropriately report the boycott by leading state politicians of the newspaper's March 24 public affairs conference on health care at Brown University because of Guild picketing of the affair.

Sloughing the story off with only a mention at the end of a story about medical issues at the conference, the coverage contrasted with treatment a day earlier, with front-page display for a police union's boycott of a Congressional candidates' debate that stalled that event.

So far, during the difficult labor dispute, the paper has made only grudging mention, again in contrast to front page treatment by two other local outlets, and coverage by broadcast media.

It is a unsettling development, editors willing to let their paper's business interests trump the paper's obligation to inform its readers and to act fairly.

Moreover, in effect, the editors are allowing the newspapers managers and owners to use the paper as a weapon in the labor dispute - in this case, censoring the union's story.

The Guild member who received The New York Times letter to subscribers had this comment:

"Considering how much time, energy and money the company has spent waging war on its employees and trying to break their Guild, why could it not manage a simple letter to subscribers when they most needed to hear from us?"

Copyright © 2000 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
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