Vol XIl, Issue 21 TNG/CWA Local 31041 March 30, 2001


Arbitrator rules ProJo can't automatically downgrade jobs
• Journal must pay a Prepub operator extra for working in a higher job classification
Guild testimony found to be more credible than that of two company managers

Status report

NLRB charges: A hearing on the company's 30 alleged violations of federal labor law has been rescheduled to June 25. The session was previously set for April 2, but the National Labor Relations Board wanted to more time to prepare the case. And officials prosecuting the case on the Guild's behalf wanted to add new charges to the case, if NLRB investigators decide that new counts brought by the union have sufficient evidence to support them.

Potluck supper: All Guild members are invited to an old-fashioned potluck supper tomorrow, March 31. It begins at 6 p.m. at the home of photo editor Babette Augustin, 119 Wentworth Ave., Cranston. Bring your favorite casserole, dessert or salad. And, and of course, bring the children. The Guild will supply drinks, utensils, etc. Call or e-mail the union for directions: 421-9466; png@riguild.org.

No new sessions have been set. The last bargaining meeting was Feb. 14. It produced an exchange of letters that resulted in resolution of a key dispute over wording on health insurance benefits.

In a decision with implications far beyond its dollar value, an arbitrator has ordered the company to pay a Prepublishing Department operator extra money for substituting in the higher-paid position of a Prepub specialist.

The amount of money owed the worker is small -- just $112.42. But the message that underlies the decision is a key one: the company cannot automatically shift work to lower classifications as it puts in high tech equipment or changes the way the newspaper is produced.

Arbitrator Mark L. Irvings ruled the company must negotiate these changes with the Guild, or have an arbitrator decide them.

One of the things that swayed Irvings in this case was the testimony of Guild and company witnesses: he found the Guild's testimony clear, but said one company manager "equivocated" at one point, and that another manager was "not persuasive."

The dispute over pay because of job changes is a central issue faced not just by the Guild, but by many workers in the "new economy" - setting fair wage rates as jobs duties evolve with use of new computers or other new technology.

One danger unions try to guard against is that as the workplace changes, companies may try to reclassify the new work to lower paid categories.

This, in fact, is one of the major disputes in the current negotiations for a new contract.

Here's what happened in the arbitration case:

The Prepublishing department was created under an agreement between the Guild and the Journal in 1996, combining the old composing room and the color pre-press department. Former publication clerks were reclassified as "operators," now earning a top scale of $633.92 a week. Other classifications were assigned work as "specialists," earning $841.09.

Among the department's duties was creation of newspaper advertisements.

Initially, operators typed in text of ads and proofread the results. Specialists, assigned to an "ad bank," physically pasted the text to a board, along with artwork and photos.

With the switch to pagination by 1998, paste-up ended, and ad components were assembled on computer screens. Both operators and specialists were assigned work in the various steps of the ad-making process.

According to Arbitrator Irvings, the company argued that ad bank work was eliminated by pagination, and that extra proofreading work that was assigned to ensure accuracy of ads was akin to that which had always been done by operators.

But the Guild, according to Irvings, said that specialists were not "working down" to the level of operators under pagination. Further, he said the company did not use the grievance procedure to negotiate a new pay classification.

The current case arose when Dave Pagano, a Prepub operator, was assigned to substitute for two weeks in the summer of 1999 for Steve Sloan, a specialist.

For one week, the company paid Pagano the daily shift differential of $22.48, known as "small grid" payments, for doing a specialist's work. But the company didn't pay the differential for the other week.

The arbitrator said that Linda Natale, a Prepub manager for two years, and Richard O'Brien, a manager since 1999, testified about the nature of the work under paste-up and pagination.

Irving noted that O'Brien "equivocated" about when specialists first began doing some tasks, and that "Natale's attempt to portray the daily work of the

Prepublishing operators and the Prepublishing specialists as identical was inconsistent with the testimony of Pagano, Sloan, and O'Brien, and was not persuasive."

On the key issue of changes in value of the work performed because of duties changed under pagination, the arbitrator ruled the company had not followed the procedures spelled out by the contract.

While the company argued that higher-paid specialists were actually "working down" in the less skilled tasks of operators, the company had not negotiated or arbitrated a new classification, he said.

"Until such time as an arbitrator rules the Prepublishing specialists are working down to the level of Prepublishing operators, it must be presumed the wage rate accurately reflects the complexities of the job," Irving said.

Since Pagano had worked in the higher classification, he is due the pay differential, the arbitrator said.

Irving said he would stay involved in the case to resolve similar pay disputes in Prepub that might have occurred since the Pagano case; but he said failure to pay small grid in cases before then could not be raised by the Guild, because grievances are supposed to be filed in a "timely" manner.

The ruling that it should have paid a worker $112 cost the company attorney's fees plus $1,529, which is its half of the arbitrator's fee. The Guild's costs are being paid by The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, which is supporting the local's legal costs during negotiations.

In negotiations, the company has proposed a new rate of pay for specialists and operators, which is midway between the two categories now. (Current specialists would continue to get their higher rate of pay).

The union's proposal is to upgrade operators to the new rate proposed by the company, and to retain the specialists' classification and higher pay rate.

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