Ask the Guild
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.
weakens the grievance process.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495