Vol XIl, Issue 17 TNG/CWA Local 31041 March 8, 2001



The annual Providence Newspaper Guild Follies made local, regional and national headlines this year, thanks to some smooth sailing by U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, aka The Mystery Guest.

There were accounts of the Follies - which included the inevitable confusion about who sponsors the Guild event - in at least seven newspapers and the Associated Press.

Kennedy's performance at the Mystery Guest, the public figure who agrees to end the show, received by far the most attention, and was the reason for most of the national coverage.

Only two papers dealt with the conflict between the company and the Guild, cited on several occasions during the show. The Warwick Beacon sneered at talk of a potential boycott, while The Phoenix was supportive of the Guild and critical of Belo and Journal Company bargaining tactics.

There was also a supportive column in the Brown Daily Herald not related to the Follies, in which a student writer urged readers of the campus newspaper to sign boycott pledge cards.

Here is a rundown of the press clippings:

THE WARWICK BEACON, Feb. 27, reviewed the Follies in a This Side Up column by publisher John Howell. Howell gave Kennedy a rave rating for appearing in a sailor suit and poking fun at himself for the earlier controversy about whether he'd misused a yacht and the Coast Guard's boarding of his boat on Block Island last summer.

Howell, whose paper has run a long and credible piece about the Guild's contract dispute with the Journal, said he didn't much care for the union talking about the potential boycott at the Follies.

ROLL CALL, March 1, the Capitol Hill paper, reprised Kennedy's performance in its Heard on the Hill feature, which was headlined: 'Coke and a Smile,' in which it noted that Kennedy joked about prior drug use by himself and U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

Roll Call quoted Kennedy's line from the Follies, "Now when I hear someone talking about a Rhode Island politician whose father was a senator and who got to Washington based on his family name, used cocaine and wasn't very smart, I know there is only a 50-50 chance it's me."

The Washington paper mistakenly referred to "28th Annual Providence Journal Follies," (it's the PROVIDENCE NEWSPAPER GUILD Follies, Ladies & Germs).

THE PROVIDENCE PHOENIX, March 1, provided the most complete account of the event in the Philippe and Jorge's Cool, Cool World column, which called this edition "easily one of the better shows we have seen in years."
Phillipe and Jorge praised M.C. Scott MacKay as "that lean, mean writing machine," and said the parody of the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight, with the refrain "In the Biltmore, the mighty Biltmore, Cianci sleeps tonight," was the performance highlight of the evening.

The Phoenix not only got the name of the union right, but it had a very supportive take on the union's discussion of its contract dispute with the newspaper, praising Guild President Bob Jagolinzer's talk to the Follies crowd:

"Citing the union-busting typical of the corporate Southern mentality, Jagolinzer made a promise that we hope is kept -- that the Other Paper will remain here long after its Texas owners have been made to get out of Dodge, hopefully by the National Labor Relations Board, which has scheduled an April hearing on allegations of unfair practices by Belo."

THE BOSTON GLOBE, March 3, picked up on the ROLL CALL piece with an article across the top of its City & Region section front headlined 'Confessions of Patrick the Sailor Man,' a goofy AP file picture of Kennedy and a somewhat breathless lead datelined Washington:
"In a performance making Boston's raucous St. Patrick's Day political breakfast look tame, US Representative Patrick Kennedy last week keynoted a Rhode Island political roast in which he joked about his cocaine use, his boating problems and the backside of a Boston television reporter he dated."

The Globe, too, got some things wrong, calling it the 28th Annual Providence Follies; miscounting the attendance at 500 (it was more than 1,240); and saying that the sponsoring group is the newspaper "editorial" union, when we also represent advertising and housekeeping workers.

THE PROVIDENCE SUNDAY JOURNAL, March 4, featured a Charlie Bakst column that gave a long, laudatory analysis of the congressman's performance in an Issue & Ideas piece headlined: 'Putting a tough year behind him, Kennedy turns to humor.'

Bakst opened with Kennedy's lyrics to the Gilligan's Island theme: Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started in Connecticut aboard a damaged ship.

"Very smart," Bakst wrote. "Whenever a politician can poke fun at himself -- especially a pol as controversial and at times, as infuriating as Kennedy is -- he or she is ahead of the game."

Bakst got the Follies name right, got the headcount in the ballpark, and put in some nice Follies Mystery Guest history, noting the disastrous performance of former Atty. Gen. Arlene Violet, and the wickedly funny appearance last year of incumbent Atty. Gen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

Bakst touched ever so gently on the contract dispute, noting Kennedy agreed to appear as the end-of-the-program Mystery Guest "as a gesture of support for the Guild during its quest for a new contract…."

THE PROVIDENCE SUNDAY JOURNAL, March 4, Faye B. Zuckerman's GALA-vanting society column in the Lifestyles section featured a roundup that had the union's name right and a precision headcount: 1,240; the fact that $10,000 was raised for Guild scholarships; and a listing of some of the big names at the event, including U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, Lt. Gov. Charlie Fogarty, Supreme Court Justice O. Rogeriee Thompson and former Gov. Bruce Sundlun who "had a prime front-row table."

THE NEWPORT DAILY NEWS, March 5, ran an AP version of the The Globe story (which we assume was the source since it repeated the Globe's erroneous headcount and Follies name), in a Page One piece headlined 'Rep. Kennedy laughs at himself.'

THE BOSTON HERALD, March 6, had a column by Wayne Woodlief, who sort-of complimented Kennedy, calling his Follies stint "masterful." Woodlief flunked the sponsorship test, saying it was a Providence Journal event.

The company is again refusing to negotiate with the Guild.

In a letter faxed Wednesday, Thomas J. McDonough, the Journal's human resources director, said that "we see no reason to schedule a further meeting date" unless the union signals that it will change its position on key issues.

The Guild responded by stating that it has modified its position several times, in contrast to the company's bargaining stance, in which it has made only one change in its proposal during the past year - eliminating its year 2000 wage increase proposal.

"Any difficulty reaching agreement is the result of the company's" illegal moves a year ago to impose an inferior medical plan and other contract changes, and of the company's "refusal to negotiate in good faith and its animus toward the Guild," said Timothy Schick, union administrator.

Schick noted that the Guild remains ready to negotiate at any time.

The Guild and the Journal last had a bargaining session Feb. 14 - their eighteenth session - during which the union made what it described as "relatively minor" changes in its contract proposal.

Those small modifications were intended to spark similar changes by the company and hopefully build momentum in the negotiating process, the union said.

At the end of that two-hour session, the Guild proposed scheduling another session, and the company said that it would reply later.

McDonough, in a letter faxed March 6 (but dated Feb. 6), rejected the Guild's minor proposals, including putting its contract proposals - which are contained in several documents and verbal statements - into a single written proposal.

"You asked for future dates," McDonough continued. "At this point, the Guild has made no movement for months and months on several key issues."

He said the Guild has rejected the company's medical insurance coverage, along with its proposal that it be allowed to switch coverage to "substantially equivalent plans"; that the Guild refuses to drop key parking language from the contract and that the Guild has not accepted the company's proposal for a reopener on retirement plans.

"On each of these major items, and more, the Guild's position has remained unchanged for more than a year. We see no reason to schedule a further meeting date unless and until the Guild provides some reasonable indication that it will move off these positions and break this impasse," McDonough said.

Schick rejected the company's claim that there is a negotiating impasse or stalemate.

And the union administrator pointed out that the Guild has changed its negotiating offer several times.

"On Feb. 14 and previously, the Guild modified its position," Schick said, adding: "the company has not responded in kind."

"The company's only movement between January, 2000 and now has been a regressive move made against Guild members in retaliation for exercising their rights guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act," he said.

On Feb. 2 the company lowered its wage offer by pulling a proposed 3 percent wage hike off the table for last year. This followed a threat by other company officials, who complained about the Guild's plans to prepare for a circulation boycott and the union's filing of unfair labor practice charges.

The Guild took several steps after the threats were made. One was to file a new unfair labor practice charge, saying that the threats themselves were made to intimidate the union from pursing legal steps to protect
and advance its negotiating position.

The union also outlined steps the company could take to make a boycott unnecessary, including retracting the changes it had made in working conditions and by negotiating in good faith with the Guild.

The exchanges between the two sides led to the Feb. 14 bargaining session.
"The Guild remains ready to meet at reasonable times and places to negotiate in good faith for a new contract and renews its request for available dates for this purpose," Schick wrote in a March 7 reply to the company.

Except for reducing its wage offer last month, the company has made no changes in its contract proposal since the Guild membership rejected it in a 354 to 28 vote in early February 2000.

In contrast, the Guild has changed its offer a number of times, including a substantial revision last May 3, when it made a major concession on health coverage by agreeing to the company's proposed formula to have workers pay a straight 15 percent of insurance premiums.


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