Vol XIl, Issue 8 TNG/CWA Local 31041 January 22, 2001

NEITHER RAIN NORů Small groups of Guild members protested outside the Journal Building last week on four days to note the 20 federal unfair labor practice charges pending against the newspaper.

Ask the Guild

Why Does
the Company's Current Offer Threaten the Guild's Future?

Q. The Guild leadership has repeatedly asserted that accepting the company's last contract offer would be suicidal for the union. What, specifically, is in the company's proposal that would weaken or destroy the union?

A. The company's contract proposal would undermine the Guild's ability to offer the assurances and protections that members expect from a union.

It does this in three ways. The company proposal gives management the right to change certain benefits, so that parts of the contract would not be binding for the full three years. It gives Guild members benefits that are inferior to those that nonunion members get.

And it weakens the grievance process.

If the Guild accepted the company's proposal, our members would be left with a union that couldn't offer them very much. In the case of some benefits, Guild members would even be at a disadvantage compared with nonunion workers. It wouldn't take long for members to question the reason for belonging to a union.

This is apparently the company's plan. Company negotiators have crafted a contract intended to make the union so weak that management can do what it wants and that members will eventually abandon the union.

They have refused to budge from this offer for a year, despite several counterproposals from the Guild.

Here are the details.

Making contract provisions nonbinding. The company wants a contract provision giving it the right to change our health coverage to anything that is "substantially equivalent" to what we have now. The company has refused to define "substantially equivalent." Thus, this provision would allow the company to change health benefits in almost any way it wanted to, without negotiation. That's what happens to people who don't have union representation. Living under such a contract provision would be the same as not having a union.

Additionally, the company proposes that we keep our current retirement benefits only until the end of this year. Then, we'd have to re-negotiate the pension and 401K. We have no idea what the company would offer us in a new round of mid-contract negotiations. But mid-contract negotiations would keep us very busy and cost us money, making it harder to tend to other union business. And if the company and the Guild couldn't agree, the company could impose whatever retirement plan it wants.

Finally, the company wants to erase our contract provision that provides for subsidized parking. Nothing would be put in its place. The company has said that once we agreed to surrender our parking benefit, Guild members could park for free in company lots. But free parking wouldn't be in the contract. So the Guild would have no role in making sure that parking spaces are allocated fairly (since there obviously aren't enough spaces for all of us). And the company could take away free parking at any time. Again, when it comes to parking, it would be just like not having a union.

Making Guild members second-class citizens. The company's proposal would keep Guild members on the old Journal pension, while nonunion members get the Belo pension. The Belo pension is clearly superior to the Journal pension, so that Guild membership would thus become a disadvantage. Similarly, the company wants Guild members to keep the Journal 401K while nonunion members get the Belo 401K. The company has illegally refused to give us the information we need to determine whether the combination of the Belo pension and 401K is a better deal. But many members believe that it is. So this also creates the sense that being a Guild member is a disadvantage.

Undermining the grievance process. The company has proposed that it have the right to modify duties and change schedules in the Prepublishing Department without recourse to grievances. The right to file grievances is a basic union function.


The Guild's first-ever United Way campaign has gained steam - but still is not where it needs to be.

The Guild membership authorized the campaign - and the state's labor movement went to bat for us when United Way officials balked, apparently responding to Journal complaints.

Now it's important to the United Way
beneficiaries and to labor leaders for us to support them.

Participation is important. Even if someone can give only a modest amount -- $5 or $10 for the year - it still helps a great deal.

First of all, the United Way, whose statewide campaign is lagging, needs ever dollar. And secondly, it's important that we show healthy support in terms of the number of Guild members taking part.

You can write a one-time check to the United Way - or make a credit card donation. You can also have the United Way bill you once a month.

If you have misplaced the donor form already distributed, we have more. You can send them directly to the United Way, or route them to Felice Freyer, an executive board member, in the newsroom.

Worse, the company is also insisting, as part of its contract offer, that we drop all pending grievances. This would be an unconscionable betrayal of the members who have filed complaints and who have a right to their day in court. What's more, it would be illegal for us to accept the company's proposal. Under the law, the union has a "duty of fair representation." This means members have the right to have their grievances handled based on the merits. It is illegal to horse-trade grievances. The union can be successfully sued for refusing to process grievances or dropping them for the sake of expediency.

Grievances are the union's way of enforcing the contract and of doing our best to make sure members are treated fairly. If you can't file a grievance, or if you can't be assured that your grievance will be processed fully and fairly, you are in the same position as someone who doesn't have a union-namely, powerless.

Guild members aren't stupid. When this contract proposal was put before the membership a year ago, members voted 354 to 28 to reject it. It was the highest turnout in any vote in Guild history. The "no" vote alone exceeded all prior turnouts.

Members didn't like what the contract offered them for the next three years. Looking farther into the future, many also saw that the company's proposal would eat away at core union functions.

That's why this is not just a bad contract -- it's the Guild's death warrant.

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