Vol XIl, Issue 7 TNG/CWA Local 31041 January 18, 2001



The company has rejected the forum that the Guild has proposed to discuss contract issues. Darrell West, the Brown University political scientist, had offered to serve as the neutral moderator.

Mark T. Ryan, a Journal senior vice president, wrote that the company's positions on its current contract offer have been communicated clearly, and further, that it believes the Guild would use company statements in such a session as fodder for new unfair labor practice charges against the newspaper.

Tim Schick, the Guild administrator, said that the proposal for a forum is made in good faith, and remains a union proposal for helping to resolve the long dispute between the Guild and the company over a new contract.

"Mr. Ryan says that one of the things they are afraid the forum would result in is more unfair labor practice charges," Schick said. "The irony is that if the company weren't doing something illegal, they would have nothing to fear.''

The forum was suggested by a Guild member, who said he would appreciate hearing contract issues discussed directly by high-ranking officials of both sides, with questions accepted from an audience of union bargaining unit members.

To further the idea, the Guild sought the help of Professor West in serving as a moderator. West agreed to do so - but only if both sides agreed to participate.

Here is the text of Ryan's letter to Bob Jagolinzer, union president.

The letter he refers to is the joint Council 94-Guild letter to state workers, asking them to sign circulation boycott pledge cards.

I disagree that you or the Guild leadership have been involved in any continuing attempt to secure a fair contract for our employees represented by the Guild union. I believe you are the same Bob Jagolinzer who signed the attached letter full of misinformation that was sent to labor union members throughout the state. This unprecedented attack on our employees and their families speaks volumes about your intent.

You suggest a forum to discuss our current labor dispute. Frankly, I do not believe this type of a forum is necessary. We believe that our offer for a new collective bargaining agreement has been communicated clearly and is more than a fair offer. The problem we have is not one of communication but rather the failure of the Guild leadership to recognize what is in the best interests of our bargaining unit employees.

Also, as you know, the Guild has filed dozens of unfair labor practice charges against the Company, many of which have been dismissed, some of which are headed toward an evidentiary hearing. We believe that the Guild would file unfair labor practice charges based upon positions taken and/or statements made during the forum you suggest.
In addition, our final offer was made almost a year ago. We are now reviewing its continued availability based on your most recent actions.

Schick said that the proposed the forum is not designed to box in the company, but to provide a unique way for union members to hear the issues discussed directly by both sides.

"The proposal for a forum was and remains a good faith effort to air our differences,'' Schick said.

Reacting to the Guild's preparations for a potential reader boycott, the company has written to workers, both criticizing the union's action and threatening to "review" its contract offer that the union rejected almost a year ago.

Guild officials said that the Journal Company's letter is a sign that even consideration of a circulation boycott is having an effect on the newspaper's executives, and an indication that they are worried about the tactic.

Tim Schick, Guild administrator, said that he hopes that the company, instead of making threats against the union, will return to the bargaining table and work out an agreement, the course the Guild prefers - as opposed to a painful step such as a circulation boycott.

In addition, Schick said that the union's legal experts believe that the company - by making the threat - committed still another unfair labor practice.

The Guild will file a charge with federal officials in connection with the threat. Last December, the National Labor Relations Board issued a formal complaint that the company violated the law in about 20 previous instances.

The actions about which the company is making threats include the Guild's work with other Rhode Island unions for a possible boycott, and its filing of the earlier unfair labor practice charges. These are considered "protected concerted activities" under federal law, Schick said.

Making threats against union members for taking those steps is illegal, he said.

"They are worried about their circulation base," Schick said. "They know we are communicating with the public. They know our message is resonating with the public."

The letter, signed by Howard G. Sutton, publisher and sent Jan. 15 to workers' homes, complained about a joint letter the Guild and Council 94 of the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees, mailed to 10,000 members of that labor group.

Sutton said that the company has "no interest in 'breaking' the Guild or any other union." He charged the union leadership with undertaking many "anti-company" tactics, including filing "frivolous and unfounded" unfair labor practices charges.

Sutton praised the company's contract offer, which the Guild rejected last February in a 354 to 28 secret ballot vote. Sutton cited proposed 3 percent annual raises, a new bonus, a promise to negotiate pensions mid-term in the contract and free parking.

Guild officials noted that Sutton left out the many negatives of the company's offer, including more expensive, less flexible medical plans, the take-away of a holiday, refusal to negotiate pensions now, removal of key parking language, a demand for elimination of grievance rights in the Prepublishing Department and a requirement that the Guild drop most grievances.

Sutton said that he has waited for a year for the union "majority to restore common sense" to the Guild, and ended on this note:

"The offer we have made is a good offer. It is not the kind of offer that can continue for people who try to hurt every employee of the Journal.

We are reviewing our current offer in light of your leadership's most recent action. I cannot impress on you enough how disappointed I am."

Schick, said it would be counterproductive for the company to worsen its offer:

"If a bad offer is unacceptable, does the company think a worse offer is going to be received more favorably?''

"Stay steadfast,'' TNG tells members
An official of The Newspaper Guild in Washington yesterday urged Providence Guild members to "stay steadfast" in their rejection of the company's contract offer, which she said would undo 40 years of bargaining.

"It's clear that the paper does believe it's going to wear the unit down and intimidate you into accepting an inferior contract,'' Marian Needham, the international's director of contract administration, told a standing-room-only crowd at the Guild's quarterly meeting.

"We don't think they're going to be successful with that."

"There's no guarantee that any one tactic or combination of tactics will bring you … to the exact contract you want," Needham added. But accepting the company's current contract offer does guarantee, she said, that the Guild will be worse off than it is now.

If members cave in to the company's "intimidation and stalling," she said, "In any future dispute, they'll believe that dilatory tactics and intimidation will cause you to bend and buckle."

Needham said that the international has been in frequent communication with the local, assessing the company's actions and advising the Guild on strategy. The international is also paying the local's legal fees in this dispute, she said.

"The Newspaper Guild is very well aware of the situation here and the unprecedented nature, really, of the attacks on the contract," Needham said

Needham said that the 20 unfair labor practice charges brought against the company by the National Labor Relations Board are "very encouraging," especially because they include "virtually everything we complained about."

"The NLRB can be of some help," she said. "Those charges are fairly substantial. … In answering for that, there are more than a dozen issues where there are serious financial consequences to being found guilty."

The NLRB will require the company to "make us whole" by correcting for its illegal actions, Needham said. In cases of "eggs that can't be unscrambled'' --changes that can't be undone -- the company will have to find a way to compensate Guild members.

Unfair labor practice charges are "no magic bullet," Needham said. "It's not a magic wand. It is a very important tool in bargaining even when you're up against the intransigent type of management you're finding at the Journal.''
The inauguration of George Bush is unlikely to affect the Guild's case with the NLRB, she said, because the regional office that is prosecuting the company does not change personnel under the new administration.

Additionally, our charges do not push the edges of labor law, but rather deal with clear matters of long-established law. Unilateral contract changes have been illegal for a long time, Needham said.

Meanwhile, the Guild's planned circulation boycott "might be for right now one of the best weapons you have at your disposal,'' Needham said. But she acknowledged that it's a laborious and painful endeavor.

"Circulation boycotts are really, really difficult,'' she said. "It's not the kind of thing any of our units have taken on lightly." Guild members working hard all day to produce a good newspaper hate to then go home at night and urge readers not to buy it.

" 'Distasteful' is probably the most mellow word to describe that," Needham said.

But in other locals, the threat of a boycott has often been enough to get action. "It seldom comes down to actually having to cancel the subscriptions," she said.

A Guild member noted that Journal management was under orders from its owner, the Belo Corp., to increase circulation "or heads will roll."

"This is where we can really hit them in the pocketbook and not put us in danger," the member said.

Needham said that the Jan. 15 letter from Journal publisher Howard G. Sutton to all Guild members puts forth the notion that the union is being led astray by "this band of radicals that got loose in the Guild."

"You have to disabuse them of that,'' she said. "Build solidarity, build unity -- and show it."

Copyright © 2000 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
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