Vol XIl, Issue 10 TNG/CWA Local 31041 January 29, 2001

 Status report

NEGOTIATIONS: The Guild has written to the company, asking that it reconsider its rejection of the contract discussion forum the union proposed earlier. As of the writing of this newsletter, we had no reply. Negotiations began Oct. 28, 1999. The last session, the 17th, was July 11, 2000.

NLRB CHARGES: A new round of unfair labor practices charges has been filed by the Guild with the National Labor Relations Board. Included are allegations that the company improperly threatened to retaliate against union members because the Guild filed earlier charges and because it wrote to the other unions about boycott plans.

LISTSERV: The name of the listserv, the email discussion group, has been changed to "Providence-Guild," instead of "journal-boycott," after a listserv participant suggested that we use a more neutral title. Sign up by sending email with your name, non-projo email address and phone number to tonydepaul@aol.com or png@guild.org.


At last, some good news: Money should be coming our way.

Guild officials believe that the conclusion of an arbitration case should result in a payout soon; and also, that bargaining unit members are due the same annual bonus that other Journal workers expect.

In mid- to late February, an arbitrator is expected to decide how much the company owes us in the "me, too" case.

That's the successful complaint the Guild filed over the company's failure in January 1999 to give Guild members a wage increase that reflects a pay increase that other workers received, plus a boost required under the Guild's Gainsharing bonus program.

An arbitrator ruled last year that the company owes Guild members an extra 1.02 percent retroactive to January 1, 1999. In addition, base pay must go up 1.02 percent. Without interest, the back pay for an employee making $45,000 a year would be about $900.

Based on the legal arguments filed in the case, it appears the company is finally acknowledging that it owes us money. The key sticking points now are whether they owe us interest and lost earning investment income on the 401k.

(You can expect the company to say it will reduce any new negotiated wage increases by what the arbitrator is ordering them to pay. The company could also challenge the decision in court. They won't win, but such a move would serve to delay any payout.)

The other piece of good news is that this year, we are due the same Belo bonus that other Journal employees are to get.

It is the one of the few good changes the company imposed last year after it refused to extend the contract.

Although the company imposed mostly the onerous portions of its new contract proposals - taking away a holiday and forcing inferior medical plans - it did institute its bonus plan, which the Guild had tentatively agreed to in bargaining.

The forum was suggested earlier this month by the Guild as a means of having the 500 members of the bargaining unit hearing directly from officials on both sides of the negotiations, which have been on going for more than a year.

Darrell M. West, the Brown University political scientist, has agreed to be a moderator if such a forum were to take place. The Guild has proposed the session be held at a neutral setting, with members allowed to ask questions of both sides.

But responding to the Guild, Mark T. Ryan, Journal senior vice president, charged that the union's leadership has not been "involved in any continuing attempt to secure a fair contract."

He said the company's offer has clearly been explained, and said the only problem is the "failure" of Guild leaders to recognize what's in workers' best interests. Further, he said the company feared the Guild would pounce on any statements made in the forum for ammunition for fresh unfair labor practice charges.

The Guild's letter stated the forum proposal came from rank-and-file members who want to hear the company's side, and that the Guild purpose was to advance understanding and hopefully, move toward bargaining resolution.

"We believe the unfair labor practice charges that we've filed in the past have been warranted, and that it's the union's obligation to defend our case,'' Jones wrote. "But we are not looking for fresh material, nor do we expect to find any at such a forum."

Ryan closed his letter with a threat: "In addition, our final offer was made almost a year ago. We are now reviewing its continued availability based on your most recent actions." In response, the Guild filed its latest unfair labor practice charge.

Ryan's threat was similar to one made by Howard G. Sutton, Journal publisher, who had castigated the Guild in a Jan. 15 letter to all Journal workers, complaining of the Guild's filing of earlier labor law charges, and of its work in preparing for a potential readers' boycott.

Sutton had complained about a letter mailed to 10,000 members of Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, (AFSCME) asking them to sign pledge cards and promising not to buy the paper if the Guild declared a boycott.

The publisher denied that the company is trying to break the union, and he accused the union of trying to "hurt every employee."

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

The Guild currently is distributing pledge cards to 80,000 members of AFL-CIO affiliated unions, as well as other labor organizations.

After a sufficient number of cards are returned, the Executive Board will ask the Guild membership whether it wants to authorize a boycott. If so, the board hopes that even the possibility of a boycott will help conclude negotiations. But if that doesn't happen, the union would then consider declaring one.

As to the proposed forum, Executive board members this past Monday authorized a letter to Sutton asking him to reconsider the idea.

Board members also said the publisher had misunderstood the reasons why the Guild has had to file unfair labor practice charges and to lay foundations for a potential reader boycott.

"The Guild has made numerous efforts to conclude negotiations, revising its contract proposal twice and making off-the-record attempts at settlement,'' commented Tim Schick, Guild administrator. "But it's been rebuffed repeatedly and forced by the company to take legal and tactical steps.''

John Hill, secretary of the union, said that it seems that the only thing that the company agrees with the Guild is its expression of "disappointment."
Said Hill: "We're disappointed, too."

In Our Own Words


I'm concerned about two statements in the letter we sent to 10,000 state AFL-CIO members asking they sign boycott pledge cards. As most of you know, I am against a boycott, feeling that if we pull the trigger, we -- and the newspaper itself -- will be hurt the worst. So I wish we had never sent it. But that aside, on to specifics.

My first concern about the letter, signed jointly by our Guild president, and Thomas Chellel, Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO president, is the last paragraph.

"For years," it said, "The Journal's editorial pages have picked on labor, especially public employees. Now is the chance... to send them (the Journal) a message." It's one thing to ask outside union members to support our contract fight, but I feel it's inappropriate to encourage them to retaliate against the paper over a Journal editorial position. First, the editorial pages are in part written by Guild members. Second, we cannot get drawn into co-signing an attack on the paper as unfairly slanted. The paragraph implies that 500 Guild members agree in general that if people don't like what's written in our pages, they should "send a message" by canceling subscriptions. Even if we disagree with an editorial stance, the Guild should never encourage anyone to economically punish the Journal for expressing its viewpoint in print.

My second concern regards the paragraph saying that once the Guild gets enough boycott-pledge signatures, we'll demand a better deal.

Then: "If the newspaper still refuses, the Guild will announce the start of the boycott, and ask the general public to join in." Not "might announce" but "will."

In truth, the final decision on this awaits a membership vote.

I acknowledge my boycott opposition may put me in the minority, perhaps a small minority, but it's neither accurate, nor fair to us to say in a letter sent to 10,000 people that Guild consensus behind a boycott is at this stage official.



Mark makes a valid point about the description of the boycott process being incomplete in the Council 94-Guild letter.

Indeed, what is going on now is only preparation, and there are key steps ahead, including whether the union membership, in fact, wants to proceed with an appeal to readers. No formal or public action will be taken on a boycott until the membership has an opportunity to discuss the matter fully, and then vote. The Executive Board expects to call for a secret ballot vote if a referendum becomes necessary.

What we've been doing since late fall is working with the 80,000 members of the AFL-CIO and their individual local unions, distributing and retrieving pledge cards.

These cards would allow the Guild to cancel the signer's subscription, if and when a boycott is declared; and to re-start the subscription if a boycott is called and then ends.

We've just sent out a large mailing, both to test this system and to thank pledge cards signers and update them as to where things stand. In that letter, we have been clearer about the process, telling the signers that Guild members have to authorize the boycott before it starts.

As to the grudge that unions have toward the paper, that reflects a long history of negative attitudes by the paper towards not just the Guild, which had to fight to get into the Journal and is now fighting for survival, but unions in general.

More importantly, Rhode Island has a long love-hate relationship with The Journal. Many people have grudges, some justified, most not.

One of the unfortunate realities of a potential boycott is these imbedded dislikes will come into play, and fuel the drive to cancel readership.

It's just one more reason to hope that a boycott will not be necessary, and that we - and the company - will be able to negotiate a fair contract without a boycott.

Copyright © 2000 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
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