|Vol XIl, Issue 11
||TNG/CWA Local 31041
||January 31, 2001
WHY IS THE GUILD CONSIDERING
A READER BOYCOTT?
The union has begun preparing for a boycott because the company
hasn't adequately responded to lesser steps.
A decision to launch a boycott will be made only by the Guild membership,
in a secret ballot vote.
The state AFL-CIO is helping distribute pledge cards to the state's
80,000 union members.
Signers authorize the Guild to cancel and restart subscriptions,
and promise not to buy the paper at stores and vending boxes.
At the end of a boycott, the Guild, using its pledge card database,
would contact readers, asking them to resume buying the paper.
QUESTION: Why is
the Guild considering a reader boycott that could hurt the very paper
we union members are working so hard to make successful?
have been in negotiations since Oct. 28, 1999. The company has not responded
adequately to less-painful measures, such as face-to-face negotiations,
federal mediation, tactics like work-to-rule; the intercession of community
leaders such as U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy. The government has charged
the company with 20 counts of breaking federal labor laws. The company
has illegally imposed inferior benefits and has threatened Guild members.
We believe that the company, not the Guild, has raised the stakes, forcing
us to consider more forceful steps.
Q: What steps have
been taken so far?
A: Since last fall, the Guild has been working with the state AFL-CIO
and its local unions that represent 80,000 union members, asking them
to sign pledge cards. The cards authorize the Guild to stop, and restart,
home delivery. Signers who aren't subscribers pledge not to by the paper
at retail outlets, including honor boxes.
Q: Will Guild members
have the final say as whether the boycott should, in fact, be called?
A: Yes. When the Guild has sufficient pledge cards to make a significant
impact on circulation, the executive board will ask the membership to
vote whether to go forward. The action will be equivalent to a strike
vote, with a secret paper ballot.
Q: What will happen
if the vote is 'yes' to go ahead?
A: The Guild Executive Committee will call for a boycott when it believes
at this action will have the greatest influence
on the Journal. The Guild would also seek to expand the boycott beyond
the initial pledge card signers.
Q: Won't a boycott
permanently damage the newspaper, in effect hurting the union and its
A: A boycott is a powerful weapon. But we hope to limit permanent
loss of readership. Because we are working with pledge cards, we will
be able to contact the participants, telling them when a boycott begins;
and just as importantly, telling them when it ends and asking them to
resume buying the paper.
As pledge cards come
in, we add the information - phone numbers, addresses - to our database,
so that we can keep in touch. Recently, we sent letters to card signers,
to update them on the boycott status, and to refine this communication
Q: How many cards
have been returned so far?
A: We aren't disclosing the count in this phase. We are getting excellent
cooperation from other unions. State workers, at their expense, mailed
letters and pledge cards to their members; both major teachers unions
are working closely to distribute and retrieve cards; Providence Firefighters
helped with a mailing to their members; the URI faculty union included
a long article in its newsletter -- and reprinted the pledge card. Among
others who are helping are phone and postal workers, the Teamsters, police
unions, social and health care workers.
Q: How many boycotters
will we need to make an impact?
A: Circulation has been falling so relentlessly - aided by the company's
poor introduction of a new circulation computer system at the beginning
of 2000 -- there is a growing crisis of readership. In the 12 months ending
last September, the Journal said daily circulation dropped 4,719 and Sunday
sales dropped by 5,443. Because of this, managers are under pressure to
build circulation. The Guild will need only a fraction of the readership
to make a significant impact.
Q: Why doesn't
the Guild call for a strike?
A: A strike is always a possibility. But we think we should exhaust
other alternatives first. Strikes rarely shut down newspapers, so the
issue of replacement workers and the right of return by strikers becomes
critical, as was the case in the recent Seattle walkout.
But one advantage
for the Providence Guild: if we decide to strike on the basis of the unfair
labor practices complaints lodged against the newspaper by the National
Labor Relations Board last December, federal law requires the company
to rehire all strikers at the end of that kind of an "unfair labor
Q: Why make extensive
preparations before asking for a membership vote? Isn't that putting the
cart before the horse?
A: Just as a union does strike preparations before voting to authorize
a strike, we are preparing for a boycott prior to seeking membership approval
to actually begin the boycott. When the vote is taken members have the
right to know they are voting for or against a viable program.
Q: Let's say that
the boycott is a resounding "success" and it costs the Journal
millions of dollars: Isn't there a danger that management will take it
out on us in terms of layoffs?
A: There is that risk. But the more effective an action like a boycott
is, the more bargaining power the union would have at the end to ward
of that kind of retaliation. There is no guesswork about what will happen
if we don't increase pressure: the company will try to force an inferior
contract. The greatest danger to the Guild is doing nothing.
Q. Can I distribute
A. Yes. If some members want to distribute cards, they are welcome
to do so, on their own time. Contact Tim Schick, Guild administrator,
at 421-9466 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. Can people pledge
on the Internet?
A. Yes, the Guild's website - www.riguild.org
- was updated this week with a section on the proposed boycott. Some unions
have asked to link from their sites to ours. When someone fills outs the
on-line pledge form, we get an e-mail. We will mail them an actual card
and a return envelope, to get their signatures and to authenticate the
Copyright © 2000 The Providence
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495