Vol XI, No. 61 TNG/CWA Local 31041 September 7, 2000


R.I. congressman talks
with Belo chairman and Journal publisher

Kennedy also asks federal labor officials to speed unfair charges

By Brian C. Jones

Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy has talked to top officials at both the Providence Journal Co. and the A. H. Belo Corp. in an attempt to nudge Guild contract talks along and now has a taste for what the union's negotiators are up against.

Robert W. Decherd, Belo's chief, told Kennedy that the Guild negotiations - now in their 11th month - are a local issue, strictly in the hands of Rhode Island managers of the Providence Journal, which Belo owns.

Then Howard G. Sutton, Journal publisher, told Kennedy over lunch that the company's best offer is on the table for the Guild to accept.

In other words, the Rhode Island congressman received the same kind of message that the Guild negotiators have been getting: that the company has taken a take-it-or-leave it stance.

Kennedy's contact with Journal and Belo officials underscores the challenge that the Guild faces: that the companies are firmly dug in in their refusal to fairly negotiate with the union, and that it will be up to the union to apply hard financial pressure to change the situation.

Kennedy also intervened on the Guild's behalf on another front: He wrote to the National Labor Relations Board to expedite the federal agency's processing of charges by the union that the Journal has broken labor laws in its negotiating moves.

An NLRB official replied that the agency's regional office in Boston had referred a question on one of several issues raised by the Guild to Washington for advice and would make a recommendation "as expeditiously as possible."

The Guild filed the unfair labor practices charge last Dec. 27 spelling out alleged violations of federal law in connection with bargaining. After regional officials concluded their investigation of those matters, the union filed a second charge May 8. A decision on those allegations is also pending.

Negotiations began last October. The company has refused to change its offer since the Guild rejected it, 354-to-28, Feb. 2 and 3. The parties' last meeting was July 11, their 17th session, although they didn't meet face to face.

Through mediator Paul Chabot, the Guild asked the company for more information on pensions, so it could refine its position on that issue, one of many that remain unresolved.

KENNEDY'S OFFER to intervene in the Guild negotiations was made in an unsolicited letter released during the rally by 150 members of the Guild and other Rhode Island labor unions outside the Journal Building June 16.

At the time, Kennedy noted that he had met Decherd, the Belo chairman, in Dallas and in Washington, and that be believed that the financial success of the Journal over the years was due in large part to the "hard work, dedication and excellence of Guild members."

The Guild took Kennedy up on his offer. The union's leaders felt that all efforts are important in working to achieve a new contract, and that Kennedy and his father, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, have influence in Washington, which in turn, exerts influence on corporations such as Belo, whose broadcast empire is federally regulated.

THE UNION'S LEADERS felt that the Guild's news-reporting members who cover Kennedy still would be free to continue their unbiased and hard-edged coverage of Kennedy or any other politician, and they took steps to have others in the union deal with the congressman and his staff.

(This is not the first time a politician has assisted the Guild. In 1970 Governor Frank Licht intervened in Guild negotiations to assist in avoiding a strike.)

There was also some appreciation within the union for the risk that any politician takes in criticizing a media company - especially one with the reach of Belo, with its national system of TV stations and its influential flagship newspaper, the Dallas Morning News.

According to Larry Berman, Kennedy's Rhode Island spokesman, the congressman first telephoned Decherd. In what Berman described as "a nice conversation," Decherd told Kennedy that local managers were running the negotiations. He said he would call Sutton, the Journal's publisher, and ask him to brief Kennedy.

Kennedy and Sutton met for lunch at the Aurora Club in Providence Aug. 8.
Sutton was pleasant, Berman said, and he told Kennedy that the company "had given the union it's best offer and that it was on the table."

Kennedy discussed several of the key issues, including health care, which he said was a national concern as well as an issue in the Guild negotiations. The congressman said that he supported the union and that he "would do whatever he can to try to help the union," Berman said.

Sutton replied that "he hoped that everything was going to turn out all right," Berman said.

"I'm going to come down on the side of the union," Kennedy said, according to his spokesman. "The union is the heart of the paper, and I hope that you treat them fairly."

THE GUILD'S UNFAIR LABOR practices charge involves several instances in which the Guild says that the company has unilaterally changed contract terms and improperly declared an "impasse" in negotiations.

The Guild's position is that there is room for negotiations, and thus the company is obligated to keep the current contract terms in force while the parties continue to talk.

Among the proposals put into effect by the company last winter were its changes in medical plans, parking provision, and vacation and holiday entitlements.

The real McCoy: Journal unfair to its workers
Continuing its effort to show the public the Journal Company's uncharitable anti-worker side, Guild members attended a Pawsox game promoted by the newspaper for its Summertime Fund. Reporter Bruce Landis displays a banner also unfurled at highway bridges


The Providence Journal's non-coverage of its contract dispute with the Guild has earned the newspaper an unwelcome "Dart" from the Columbia Journalism Review.

The prestigious journalism magazine bestows Laurels on newspapers and other media outlets when they display courage and otherwise advance the profession. But the publication lobs Darts when they display unethical and shameful behavior.

In the October issue, the Review's sharp-tipped missile was aimed at the Journal's gross underplaying of the cancellation of a panel discussion of health issues last March at Brown University, after several participants said they wouldn't cross a Guild protest line.

In the Dart item headlined "Double Standard," the magazine accurately noted that the newspaper had given front-page treatment to a similar event the day before when three of four Congressional candidates refused to cross a police union's picket line at a debate. By contrast, the newspaper buried an item about the Brown forum, boycotted by Lt. Gov. Charles J. Fogarty, Atty. Gen. Sheldon Whitehouse, House Majority Leader Gerard M. Martineau, among others.

"That cancellation got a mere sliding mention in the final paragraph of the paper's twelve-paragraph story about the conference at the bottom of page 3," the journalism review wrote in its Dart item.

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