Vol XI, No. 36TNG/CWA Local 31041April 13, 2000


Guild proposed new talks,
Co 'not available' for 3 weeks;
Pension issue on agenda,
But Guild lacks info.

A negotiation session between the Guild and the company - the 16th meeting between the parties - has been scheduled for May 3.

The session was arranged by Paul Chabot, the federal mediator, at the suggestion of the Guild.

The union, which contacted Chabot Tuesday, proposed a session next week. However, the company told Chabot that the first available date was May 3, more than two weeks later.

Tim Schick, the union's administrator and chief negotiator, expressed disappointment in delay in getting back to the table, saying the Guild had proposed the session out of a "desire to keep things moving along."

Schick plans to examine the pension and 401k retirement plan issues that the Guild learned about at the last negotiating meeting, March 17.

"It is our intention to make a proposal related to the 401k changes planned by Belo," Schick said, referring to a new pension program being rolled out by the A.H. Belo Corp. for non-Guild workers at the Journal and other Belo divisions.

"Our proposal will necessarily be limited, or not as extensive as it could be, because the company has not provided information for us to fully evaluate the pension aspects of the changes," Schick said.

At the March 17 negotiating session, the Guild was provided with details of a Belo plan to phase out its corporate pension in favor of an enhanced 401k program.

The company did not formally offer the Guild the revised plan at that session.

Afterwards, the Guild requested key economic detail about the new and current plans so it could evaluate the impact on its members, should the new plan become a formal topic during the talks.

But in a surprise development two weeks later, the company negotiator, lawyer Richard A. Perras, refused to supply the information in an angrily-worded letter in which he accused the Guild of "bad faith" in requesting the information.

Perras complained in particular of a Guild request that the company estimate pension benefits for all members of the union, assuming they remained at the paper through age 65.

But Schick noted that the documents describing the enhanced 401k plan state that Belo is calculating the same kind of information for 9,000 other workers throughout the corporation, and thus providing data for 500-Guild covered workers should be "no more difficult or cumbersome."

Perras, in his letter refusing the information, said that the new benefits "are not being offered to the Guild bargaining unit." This seemed a change in course, since company's actions appeared to be a strong signal that negotiations should focus on the new Belo program.

Retirement benefits are an important issue in the negotiations, at which the Guild has proposed adding the current Belo pension and 401k retirement savings programs to Journal Company benefits currently available to Guild bargaining unit members.

For many people, the Belo benefits appear superior to the Journal plans.

In a letter to non-Guild employees, the company said Belo is phasing out its corporate pension plan in favor of a beefed-up 401k plan. Those workers currently covered by the Belo pension and 401k could elected to finish out their careers covered by those plans.

Or, they could elect to have their pension frozen at its current value, and sign up for the new 401k, in which Belo would contribute cash to the savings plan, as well as increase the amount of money it puts in to match employee contributions.

Guild Seeks Election to Represent 26 More at Worcester Paper

The Guild is continuing its drive to organize more workers at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, seeking a federally-run election of 26 inside circulation employees.

The request for a new election comes on the heels of a successful organizing effort in Worcester last month at which the Guild won an election to represent 53 workers in the paper's outside circulation department. That vote was 39 to 10.

The Providence Newspaper Guild won bargaining rights in the editorial department in 1993. Efforts continue to negotiate an initial contract for that unit.

The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled an April 21 hearing in Boston to discuss terms of the voting by the circulation workers.

From Editor & Publisher "Letters" April 10, 2000 edition

Drawing Conclusions
Your March 13 article, "No providence in Rhode Island," captured the bitter nature of the contract dispute between the Providence (R.I.) Journal and it's largest union, the Providence Newspaper Guild (p.6)

However, the account had one key error.

The story incorrectly said that a drawing published in the Feb. 13 Journal, which depicted the newspaper's publisher, Howard Sutton, was intended as a Guild protest of the troubled negotiations.

In fact, the drawing's origins had nothing to do with the negotiations. It was created solely to illustrate a news service story for an education section.

The artist, Frank Gerardi, often includes likenesses of newspaper personalities in his illustrations. Appearing in past drawings have been a former publisher, the paper's top editor, reporters and Gerardi's colleagues in his visuals department.

These caricatures often provide a smile to newspaper insiders, but they rarely are recognized outside the paper, and they never are meant to send a hidden message about the Journal's internal affairs.

As second recognizable character in this drawing was myself. The caricatured figure was wearing a button on its shirt that, although not labeled, insiders might associate with Guild solidarity pins many union members were wearing at the time the drawing was created.

Management officials asserted that the drawing humiliated the publisher, and said they feared that it was part of a union action.

They were told by all involved that there was no union message intended, nor did the Guild have anything to do with the drawing.

Still, newspaper officials subsequently sanctioned two editors and the artist.

Two of those disciplined, Gerardi and Mark Divver, editor of the section, are Guild members. The third, Sunday editor Tim Murphy, isn't even in the union and hadn't seen the drawing before publication.

The Guild believes that this discipline was unwarranted and represented an overreaction by management, driven by the poisoned atmosphere caused by the bargaining difficulties.

The point is not a small one to the journalists involved. As professionals, they would not use the paper for a union stunt. Nor would they lie about their motives.

It is one of the unfortunate byproducts of this dispute that the standards and integrity of three of the newspaper's top staffers were so inappropriately called into question.

Brian C. Jones
Business writer, Providence Journal
Unit council chairman,
Providence Newspaper Guild.

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