HITS PROJO BLOCKADE
By Brian C. Jones
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.
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
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.
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
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
Kennedy and Sutton
met for lunch at the Aurora Club in Providence Aug. 8.
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,"
"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
Among the proposals put into effect by the company last winter were its changes in medical plans, parking provision, and vacation and holiday entitlements.
HURLS A 'DART' AT THE JOURNAL
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
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495