Vol XIl, Issue 11 TNG/CWA Local 31041 January 31, 2001


· 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?

ANSWER: We 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?
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?
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?
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 members?
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 process.

Q: How many cards have been returned so far?
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?
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 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 practices strike."

Q: Why make extensive preparations before asking for a membership vote? Isn't that putting the cart before the horse?
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?
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 pledge cards?
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 png@riguild.org.

Q. Can people pledge on the Internet?
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 names.

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