Vol XI, No. 71 TNG/CWA Local 31041 Nov. 6, 2000


The Guild's Letter

October 30, 2000

Mr. Tom McDonough
Director, Human Resources
Providence Journal Co.
75 Fountain St.
Providence, RI. 02902

Mr. McDonough:

It has come to the Guild's attention that the company has begun asking news department employees to assume new duties involving the use of new equipment and involving new work processes related to the gathering of sound, motion video and other digital images for use on the company's web pages.

While the Guild has always welcomed the introduction of new processes to Guild jurisdiction, the Guild has concerns related to the impact this equipment and processes may have on employees.

Some of the assignments require skills akin to those needed by radio and television sound and camera operators. We are concerned that no training in these production and newsgathering techniques has been provided.

We are also aware that such assignments are voluntary. We expect this to remain the case.

Over time additional concerns may arise, and we reserve the right to raise these as we become aware of them. And we will remind the company that the contract requires not less than 90 days notice prior to the introduction of new or modified equipment, machines, apparatus, or processes.

Timothy F. Schick
Administrator, Local 31041

Video, sound packages for projo.com stopped after Guild outlines concerns
Union mystified by halt; notes welcome for new processes

The company last week abruptly suspended video and sound recordings by Guild bargaining unit members of the sort that some reporters and photographers had been preparing for projo.com, The Providence Journal’s on-line Internet service.

There was no formal notice to the Guild of this sudden change.

However, editors told Guild reporters, photographers and visuals experts that they would no longer be putting together multi-media stories and packages for the on-line service.

Some union members understood the editors to blame the change on a "grievance" that was filed by the union.

But there has been no union "grievance." The Guild has written to the company about the new work, but has not asked that it be stopped. The union is mystified by the company’s action.

Here are the facts, as the Guild understands them:

The Guild sent a letter to the company Oct. 30, noting that Guild news employees are being asked to contribute more material to projo.com. The union did not object to the practice, but noted it has concerns about whether people are being properly trained, and that the contract requires the union to be notified in advance of use of new processes and technology.

The Guild has not asked that any of the new work be halted, and has noted only that it considers video and sound duties to be voluntary.

Historically, the union has welcomed new technology, because it constitutes an evolution of our work. As an organization, the Guild has benefited from new technology, including the switch many years ago from hot to cold type and the use of word processors.

The Guild welcomed the inclusion of projo.com into the Guild bargaining unit in 1998, after the company had initially tried to freeze out the union but reversed course.

The contract requires the company to assign this work to Guild members.

Back when the company allowed the Guild jurisdiction to be extended to projo.com – a step that the newspaper, to its credit, realized would aid the merger of print and Internet news – the Guild said it would help advance the process any way it could.

Specifically, Jody McPhillips, the former reporter and then-chair of the Guild Unit Council; Bob Jagolinzer, Guild president; and Tim Schick, union administrator wrote to the company offering the union’s help and asking to be included in any planning would develop the website.

"We want to be able to offer the ideas and insights of our members, who will be carrying out this work in the end. We also want to minimize any traditional labor-management conflicts as the work place evolves," the letter said.

"By being developers helping to put the news operation into place, instead of after-the-fact obstructionists, we believe that we can speed the creation of the new program, and ensure the morale of the workers during a period that some may look upon as unsettling and disturbing, emotions that always accompany change," the letter said.

Although some newspaper managers reacted warmly in conversations to this union overture, the paper’s top management never did.

When this idea was presented directly by McPhillips and Brian Jones, another reporter and union official, to Publisher Howard G. Sutton, he reacted coolly.

Sutton said there was no reason to have union representatives on planning committees, because Guild workers would inevitably be involved. And he said there were legal technicalities that would hinder Guild participation – a point that the Guild disputed.

As time went on, the two reporters were assigned to projo.com to provide news updates to the website, and they have worked closely and well with the rest of the staff in advancing breaking news on projo.com updates.

More recently, some reporters, photographers and others have been asked to help special packages for the website, offering pictures and sound narration that run in tandem with major stories that appear in the paper. Some photographers have been using video cameras, and real estate features have used on-line video.

This process has advanced very casually, with little training and guidance.

It has been the enthusiasm and the initiative of Guild members that have made the packages possible. Some staffers have contributed their own equipment, which they have deemed superior to the company’s machinery, to the effort.

At the same time, other Guild members have raised questions about whether they have to take on extra duties and use new equipment. Some reporters have objected to using digital recorders in addition to written notes, and photographers have questioned whether they should do sound recording, as well.

A few weeks ago, the Guild asked anyone with an interest in the pros and cons of the new duties to discuss the issues. What was obvious is that there is both interest and excitement about the new work on the part of some workers, as well as professional concerns by others about whether new duties would encroach on their current work.

The union’s position continues to be that it welcomes new technology. It wants appropriate training, and it believes that changed job duties require discussion and perhaps negotiation, all of which were suggested in the letter sent last month.

The company’s sudden halt to the video and sound work is not something that the Guild asked for, nor which it believes is helpful. The union continues to have a positive and cooperative approach to the development of the website and the evolution of the newspaper.

The text of the Guild letter accompanies this article.

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