Vol XI, No. 46 TNG/CWA Local 31041 May 18, 2000


In another step toward extending union membership to a key unit at the Providence Journal, a federal official Tuesday authorized a vote by 105 workers in the outside circulation department on whether to join the Guild.

The top regional National Labor Relations Board official in Boston, in ordering the election, said the board will set a date later on when to hold the secret ballot.

The NLRB rejected the company's position that the members of the department were "managerial" workers and therefore not eligible for union membership.

Rosemary Pye, director of the NLRB's Boston office, cited previous NLRB rulings about other newspapers, as well as the actual work roles at The Journal.

Among the differences between delivery service representatives and district managers within the department are pay and work status, Pye noted.

Delivery service representatives work on a part- time basis, earning between $8.90 and $10.35 per hour, she said. By contrast, district managers are full-time and salaried, pulling in $54,700 a year.

"In further support of my decision, I note that the small hourly wage of the delivery service representatives in comparison to the large salary of the district managers is not indicative of managerial status," Pye wrote.

The delivery workers are employed through 12 Regional Circulation Centers, Pye wrote, with between five and 14 of the workers assigned to each distribution center.

Delivery service representatives transfer bundles of newspapers, which come from the printing plant in Providence, to the 640 to 1,000 carriers who deliver the papers to homes.

The service reps decide whether there are sufficient numbers of papers and whether to request more; they distribute notices about stop-start delivery orders, and decide whether carriers must encase each newspaper in one or two plastic bags, depending on the weather, she said.

The delivery service representatives also check to make sure deliveries are carried out for customers who've lodged complaints, fill in for missing carriers, retrieve unsold papers from stores, collect money from honor boxes, install delivery tubes at customers' homes and shovel snow around vending machines, Pye said.

None of these duties are managerial, she wrote, saying workers can be excluded from unions only when they formulate company policy or have discretion to make decisions beyond established company policy.

"Their role in deciding whether or not to have the carriers double bag newspapers in inclement weather, or whether to ask for more newspapers in the event of a shortage… also falls short of the type of discretionary power that is a requisite of managerial status," Pye said.

In setting the stage for an election, Pye ordered the company to produce a list of eligible voters by May 23.

She noted that the company has until May 30 to request a review of her order by NLRB officials in Washington.

Guild officials and members of the outside circulation department are prepared to work hard to win the election, after a majority of employees in that unit signed cards in April, requesting union representation.

Based on the Providence Guild's successful organizing drives at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, leaders here expect the company to resist the effort.

In Worcester, for example, workers had to withstand intimidation and threats by the company, and counter arguments made at "captive audience meetings" run by company managers for two weeks prior to the elections.

However, workers in both the Worcester paper's outside and inside circulation departments voted to join - something which bodes well for the vote here in Providence.

Cost-cutting tales
In pursuit of profits,
The Journal hijacks $6.29 a day
from an Editorial Assistant

How can a giant $1.4-billion Dallas-based, multi-media national communications corporation save $6.29 a day?

It can change the job description of an editorial assistant in Providence, R.I.

That way, the giant corporation can pay the editorial assistant her basescale, rather than the daily differential that she had received for doing the same kind of work that she had been doing for the past six years.

Petty way to save petty cash?

Well, a pay differential here, and a differential there, and pretty soon it adds up to a mighty $31.45 a week in "savings" for the Providence Journal and its parent, the A.H. Belo Corp. of Texas.

After all, editorial assistants pull in a whopping $554.61 a week, so what's $31.45 to her? (In this case, the editorial assistant is part time at 20 hours a week, so her base salary is much less).

Here's how corporate cost-cutting came to pass.

Every spring for the past six years, the editorial
assistant, working out of the Providence newsroom, has been paid a so-called "small grid" differential when preparing graduation lists.

At the time she was given the assignment, an editor had told her that she would be paid a shift differential for substituting in the higher classification of what is now known as a Departmental Assistant.

And that's what was done, year after year.

It's time-consuming and exacting work, producing these lists. The newspaper publishes more than 100 of them every year.
The task begins by working with schools and colleges to arrange to get the lists, then entering them into the computer system - sometimes by scanner, sometimes from the schools' computer disks, sometimes by retyping them - then coding the lists, moving them from one computer system to another, double-checking the results, then updating the lists as last-minute changes come in, and making sure file slugs are consistent with news budgets.

The end result is a keepsake for families for whom a high school or college degree is a lifetime achievement, memorialized in the Providence Journal, one of a thousand reasons people turn to the newspaper, year after year.

But as graduation season approached this year, the editorial assistant worked for a few weeks before she remembered to enter the small-grid adjustment on her weekly time sheets.

The company began to pay the differential, until the payments were flagged by a newsroom administrator, who ordered them halted.
The reason?

The job description had been changed to include the duties of graduation list preparation, the manager declared.

This was not how the Editorial Assistant remembered it and asked to see a copy. A few days later, the newsroom administrator produced a new version of the job description.

And sure enough, the list of Editorial Assistants' duties now noted that a worker in this classification "Produces graduation lists by dealing with high schools and colleges." The assistant then got a previous copy of the description, with graduation lists not mentioned.

Hopefully, this is not, as they say on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, the Final Answer.

The Guild considers the change in the job description an arbitrary rewriting of the job classification, something that needs to be considered at the bargaining table, not in an administrator's office.

So the union has filed an unfair labor practices charge, challenging the move.

It will cost the company thousands of dollars to litigate this change.
And meanwhile, a hard-working union member, whose job is third from the bottom of 18 newsroom classifications, will continue to do the kind of work that sells newspapers, but for $6.29 less every day.


The latest circulation tally is out for The Providence Journal, and it's bad news.

The Sunday paper recorded 232,634 customers as of March 31, a loss of 5,152 compared with the same date a year ago, a decline of about 2.2 percent.

The daily dropped 2,530 papers, to 162,099, during the same 12-month period, a loss of 1.5 percent.

The latest figures come from the Audit Bureau of Circulation, which found that many newspapers in the country actually increased circulation, which makes the Journal's performance even more worrisome.

The Journal reported a few weeks after most newspapers across the country did, one result being that it probably won't be included in national stories about circulation trends in the industry.

One of the reasons for the Providence figures, of course, is the massive problem with the newspaper's circulation system that occurred after a new computer system was installed late last year - a problem that the Providence Journal itself has yet to report.

However, Robert W. Decherd, Belo chairman, did allude to the issue - well, sort of - in an artfully spun account to the stockholders' annual meeting in Dallas May 10.

According to the corporation's account of the meeting posted on its website, here's what Decherd said.

"The Providence Journal reduced circulation sales pressure to concentrate on the implementation of a new circulation system, resulting in a slight decrease in circulation.

"With the successful implementation of this system, The Journal is now poised to improve circulation going forward," the chairman concluded.

That's one way of putting it.

Without having to mention a new computer system that botched billing, that forgot some customers who had paid, that dropped some subscribers, that fouled up start-stop orders and that infuriated readers - who then were bedeviled for weeks by an overwhelmed telephone system that kept them on hold or cut them off all together.

Why bother shareholders with all of that?

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