Vol XII, Issue 1 TNG/CWA Local 31041 January 5, 2001



QUESTION: What is the effect of the unfair labor practices brought last month by the federal government against the Journal?

Fighting for good pay, fair benefits and proper working conditions is a vital, noble thing. But, let's face it, it's not always a lot of laughs.

That's why we have The Follies.

Here's your opportunity to poke fun at Rhode Island newsmakers while basking in the spotlight at the glorious Venus de Milo. It makes me want to burst into The Venus Song just thinking about it. ("It's Follies time at the Veeeeeenus de Milo, Veeeeenus de Milo...")

Everyone is welcome. Talent is not required. (But if you DO have talent, please, please join us.)

First rehearsal is NOON, SATURDAY, JAN. 6 at People's Baptist Church, corner of Park and Elmwood in Cranston. Come to the side door on the Elmwood Street side. For information, call Andy Smith at 7262 or Ellen Liberman at 8061.

The United Way of Southeastern New England has decided to extend the deadline of its statewide campaign, and that's good news for the Guild.

It means that we have more time to contribute to the first-ever Guild campaign at the Providence Journal: our appeal was made when many people were away during the last two weeks of the year.

Two sets of donor forms already have been distributed, one at home, the other at the office.

But if you need another set, see Felice Freyer in the newsroom, or call her: 277-7397. And you can always call the Guild office: 421-9466.

Last year, the Guild membership suggested donating through the union, rather than through the usual company campaign.

Please get the forms to either Felice or the United Way by Tuesday, Jan. 23

ANSWER: The first - and one of the most important - consequences is that an impartial, independent group of outside experts at the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board, agreed with the Guild last Dec. 20 that the company violated labor laws more than 20 times in its dealings with the union.
In short, the government has branded the newspaper a law-breaker when it comes to labor statutes. While the newspaper tries to hold itself out to Rhode Island as a respectable company, these charges mean that some government labor lawyers have decided that it has cheated its workers and union when it comes to proper bargaining. In basic terms, it's as serious as being charged as being a polluter or operating a dangerous work place.

Q: What are some of the charges?
A: Among the most important are that the company improperly changed the contract last year when it put into effect the worst of its contract proposals, such as putting new, more costly medical plans into effect, taking away a paid holiday, stretching out vacation entitlements and scrapping parking benefits without bargaining with the union properly.

Q: What else?
A: The NLRB said that the company withheld information that the Guild needed to negotiate with the Journal. Three important sets of facts are: what were the calculations used in not paying the Guild gainsharing bonuses; details on medical plans; and financial data that the union needs to negotiate over the pension and retirement benefits.

Q: Are there more charges?
A: Yes. The NLRB contends that the company tried to intimidate Guild members from exercising their right to have a union to better their cause. The government said that what the company transferred then-Unit Council chairman Brian Jones from a reporting beat in the financial news department to the general news staff, it was making the kind of hostile move meant to scare him and other union members. The government also says the company changed a job description in news and improperly hired outsiders in advertising.

Q: Can the government order the company to correct its behavior?
A: Yes. A hearing is scheduled beginning April 2 in Providence before an administrative law judge, who would in essence conduct a trial, in which NLRB lawyers will prosecute the charges and the company will defend against them. There will be testimony from witnesses and filing of briefs, or legal arguments. The judge then will decide whether to uphold the charges, and if so, order remedies.

Q: What sort of punishment might be ordered by the judge?
A: The judge could tell the company to put back the old medical plans that it jettisoned last year, to restore the holiday, vacation and parking benefits, and to make sure that union members are paid for any money they lost. He or she could order the company to turn over pension and other records requested by the Guild.

Q: When will that happen?
A: Probably not soon. The hearing won't be held for nearly four months; the hearing could take some time, as will the period the judge will need to receive briefs and study transcripts then write the decision.

Q: What else could delay the process?
A: The company could appeal to the five-member NLRB in Washington, which often assigns such matters to three of its members. That will take time, and of course, the board could rule against the government and the Guild. After that, there can be appeals to the federal courts: first to the U.S. Court of Appeals and secondly to the Supreme Court.

Q: What could shorten the process?
A: The company could stop stalling and settle the contract. A contract deal would result in the Guild and the government dropping most of the charges.

Q: Have settlement talks taken place?
A: Yes. The NLRB, when it got ready to lodge formal charges, approached the union and the company, to see if the differences could be settled. The union also asked if the overall contract could be settled. The NLRB had off-the-record discussions separately with the company and with the union. Company and union lawyers also met privately. No agreement was reached.

Q: Is there any other result from the charges?
A: Possibly. If the Guild membership voted to strike on the basis of the unfair labor practices, the company could be barred from hiring permanent replacement workers. Thus, union members would be guaranteed their jobs when a walkout ended. In a purely "economic" strike, the company is allowed to hire permanent replacements, and strikers must wait for job openings to return to work.

Q: Is the Guild contemplating other charges?
A: Yes. The union has filed two more sets of charges, alleging further examples of law breaking on the company's part. These matters are under investigation by the Boston officials of the NLRB.

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