Vol XI, No. 51 TNG/CWA Local 31041 June 13, 2000

Company often violates the contract,
then seeks to have cases dropped

Bargaining tactics at issue
in many of the legal disputes

A decision could come in early summer on the first of two unfair labor practice charges filed by the Guild, alleging that the newspaper has broken federal labor laws in the way it's been negotiation a new contract.

The union charges that the company improperly declared a legal stalemate known as "impasse" when it launched a new medical insurance program at the beginning of the year, and when it imposed other changes, such as taking away a paid holiday.

But the unfair labor practice charges are only the tip of the legal iceberg.

IN THE GUILD'S VIEW, the company has violated a rash of contractual and legal rules in the past two years.

There are 23 grievances, in which the Guild contends that the company has violated the contract.

Just as serious is the company's demand in its last contract proposal, which called on the Guild to drop most grievances and unfair labor practice charges as a condition of getting a new contract.

Beyond that, the company has twice attacked the Guild in court: once in an unusual attempt to have a judge overturn an arbitrator's award won by the Guild; the second, an attempt to keep the union from taking another case to arbitration.

The theme in all of this is the company's heavy-handed approach to the contract and to negotiations, violating numerous contract provisions, then demanding the Guild drop its cases in order to get a new contract.

THE GUILD IS NOT OPPOSED to settling the grievances and other cases in connection with agreeing to a new contract. But it feels that each case must be decided fairly, not simply dropped.

So far, the company has proposed settlement in only one case - a parking arbitration won by the union. The company proposed paying the Guild $10,000; the union believes bargaining unit members are owed as much as $400,000. When the union rejected the contract offer, the company sued in federal court to overturn the arbitration.

"They are the cases that the company wants to go away," said Tim Schick, Guild administrator. "The company wants to violate the contract and then is asking us to ignore it.

"What the company is basically trying to do is say that 'We will decide which grievances you are allowed to pursue,'" Schick said, adding the company has proposed dropping all grievances except those involving discipline against individual members.

EACH GRIEVANCE that goes to arbitration costs between $5,000 and $10,000. The unfair labor practice process and the court cases have similar costs.

The Newspaper Guild/ Communications Workers of America, the parent union of the Providence local, is picking up the legal bills.
The following is a list of the cases.

The purpose is to show the seriousness of the company's violations, and also, the extent of the company's demand that the cases be dropped in return for its agreeing to a new contract.


PARKING - When parking became tight because of increased activity downtown, the company began denying access to the Parkade garage to Guild members buying daily discount coupons.

The Guild won the arbitration, based on contract parking language. The company has sued in U.S. District Court, trying to overturn the arbitration. The Guild has counter-sued, asking the court to enforce the award. A hearing is scheduled before a federal magistrate June 14.

Meanwhile, a follow-up arbitration hearing has been set for July 31 to determine payments to bargaining unit members, which the Guild estimates could run as high as $400,000. The company proposed settling this for $10,000 in its Jan. 24 contract offer, rejected in February by Guild members. (Filed March 11, 1998).

1 PERCENT WAGE HIKE - A gainsharing bonus in 1999 triggered a 1 percentage point hike in Guild wage rates, in addition to the scheduled 2 percent annual increase.

When the company applied the same increase to rates of other unions, the Guild contended that set in motion the contract's "me-too" clause, which says that the Guild should get any boost granted other unions. This would have the effect of bringing 1999 rates 4 percent above 1998 levels. The Guild estimates this could cost the company $250,000.

In bargaining for a new contract, the union has offered to drop this grievance as part of an agreement to pay the Guild a one-time 2.75 percent signing bonus, equivalent to a "profit performance bonus" paid other
workers earlier this year. An arbitrator's decision is expected in early July 9. (Filed Feb. 22, 1999).

IRREGULAR EXTRAS - Instead of hiring full or parttime workers, the company has consistently used irregular or temporary workers beyond the limit allowed in the contract. This is a long-time issue between the Guild and the company. The current dispute largely involves copy editors in news. An arbitration hearing is scheduled Jan. 9. (Filed Nov. 24, 1999).

SMALL GRID - The company has failed to pay small grid differentials for people doing the work of higher classifications, changing the job descriptions of those involved to make it seem that the higher-paid duties belong to the lower pay jobs. An arbitration hearing is set for Dec. 1. (Filed Jan. 25).

JOB POSTING - The company has failed to post some vacant managerial jobs in the advertising department, as required by the advertising unit contract. An arbitration hearing is set for Dec. 19. (Filed Jan. 25).


MEDICAL INSURANCE - The company imposed new health insurance plans on Guild workers effective Jan. 1, even though a new contract had not been agreed to. The union contends the company, where possible, is obligated to provide coverage under the old contract until there is a new one. An arbitration hearing is scheduled for Dec. 8. (Filed Dec. 10, 1999).

UNILATERAL CHANGES - Key contract changes were announced by the company Dec. 28 to take effect Jan. 1, without a new contract being agreed to. The company-imposed provisions included a loss of one personal paid holiday, an increase from three to five years in the time it takes to qualify for a third week of vacation and loss of per-diem parking benefits. A hearing is scheduled Jan. 18. (Filed Dec. 23, 1999).

BOTCHED ADMINISTRATION - When the company put the new medical plans into effect, it implemented them poorly, causing problems for union members trying to fill prescriptions and seeking other medical services. An arbitration hearing is scheduled for Feb. 26. (Filed Jan. 7).

DUES CHECKOFF - The company violated a special clause in the contract when announced on Feb 8, that it ended payroll collection of dues, known as "checkoff" and union membership requirements, known as the union security clause. The Guild believes that an "evergreen" clause in the contract requires that these provisions stay in effect through a succeeding contract. The company has sued the Guild in U.S. District Court seeking to block arbitration of this issue. (Filed Feb. 11).

CARTOON WARNING LETTERS - The company sent warning letters to artist Frank Gerardi and section editor Mark Divver after publication of a story illustration that looked like publisher Howard Sutton. The Guild contends the company's harsh discipline stemmed from the bargaining atmosphere. (Filed March 10).

LIFE-TIME JOBS - There are six Guild-represented former craft workers, who once worked in the composing room and who have lifetime jobs with the newspaper. The Guild contends that they should be paid bonuses and have pension benefits accorded other Journal company workers because of provisions of their employment arrangements. The company walked out of an April 13 grievance meeting at which the Guild raised the issue. (Filed March 10).


VISUALS - An editorial assistant has been doing scanning work beyond his classification. The Guild is seeking a promotion. The arbitration hearing is set for Nov. 14. (Filed May 13, 1998).

SPORTS - Two copy editors consistently worked as section editors in sports, but earned only "small grid" differentials for working in the higher classification. That kept them from earning higher pay as they would if they were promoted. Since the grievance was filed in 1998, one has been promoted. The arbitration hearing is set for Apr. 5. (Filed May 14, 1998).

VACATION PAY - An editorial assistant lost vacation pay after she was promoted from parttime to fulltime status and the company pro-rated some of the vacation time, based on a 25-hour week. An arbitration hearing is scheduled Sept. 13. (Filed Aug. 3, 1999).

WASHINGTON PAY - The company has not been paying the differential to a person in the Washington bureau, who was transferred to the Guild bargaining unit. The arbitration hearing is set for Feb. 13. (Filed Aug. 23, 1999).

VACATION CREDIT - A copy editor who worked in the sports department as an irregular extra left the company, then was rehired as an irregular extra and later as a fulltime worker. The company has not credited him for the initial time he worked, resulting in denial of vacation time. Also, the company's unilateral change this year to delay a third week of vacation compounds the trouble this worker has in getting his full vacation entitlement. An arbitration hearing is scheduled Sept. 6. (Filed Sept. 14, 1999).

FIRING - An advertising delivery clerk was suspended, then fired, after his driver's license was suspended for drunk driving charge unrelated to his work at the newspaper. The company contends that he needed a license for his work, but the Guild says other clerks could have done the driving part of the work, while this employee was assigned the several non-driving duties also performed by clerks. An arbitration hearing is scheduled June 19. (Filed Sept. 23, 1999).


The Guild last Dec. 27 filed an unfair labor practices charge spelling out seven alleged violations of federal law in connection with bargaining.

Several of the charges involve the company's declaration of legal "impasse" or a bargaining stalemate, and its one-sided roll-out of its contract proposals, even though negotiations haven't been concluded.

The union charged that the company's impasse positions constitute bad faith bargaining.

The Guild objected to the company dropping medical insurance plans provided for under the current contract, and replacing them with a new series of health plans.

A number of the charges have to do with how the company proposed a "free parking" program last year, announcing the outline of the program company-wide, before discussing it with the Guild, then suspending some of the current subsidized parking provisions without providing the proposed "free parking" benefits.

The Guild charged that the company engaged in "direct" dealing with individual bargaining unit members; that it made unilateral changes in benefits, and that it engaged in bad faith bargaining over parking benefits, including its demand that the new benefits be left out of a new contract and subject to change at the whim of the company.

These matters have been investigated by the regional Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board; some questions of law have been sent by the regional office to the NLRB in Washington for further opinion. A decision is expected soon.

A second unfair labor practice charge was filed May 8.

The Guild raised new issues of failing to bargain, changing working conditions without bargaining and improperly declaring impasse.

Among the concerns are the company's changes in job descriptions in order to avoid having to pay higher pay rates for work. For example, the company changed an editorial assistant's job description to include preparation of graduation lists, something for which that the worker had received extra "small grid" differential in the past.

The union complained also that the company has refused to provide the Guild with information related to pensions, medical benefit and other data needed for negotiations and for administration of the contract.

The Guild also said that the company has tried to retaliate against some members for union activity.

For example, it ordered a member of the Unit Council not to talk about union matters with people in her department.

It transferred Brian Jones, chairman of the Unit Council, from the financial department to the metro news staff contending that in speaking with news outlets about the bargaining situation that his objectivity in covering labor stories might be questioned.

And it issued warning letters to artist Frank Gerardi and section editor Mark Divver after publication of a story illustration featuring publisher Howard G. Sutton. The Guild thinks the company's concern that the drawing could have been a union prank - despite union denials - led to improper discipline against the two.

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