Vol XIl, Issue 24 TNG/CWA Local 31041 May 1, 2001


The Guild has won a reduction in discipline - from a three-day to a one-day suspension - that The Journal ordered against a Pre-publishing specialist who left work after she had been ordered to do work normally done by workers in a lower classification.

The company has been directed to restore two-days' worth of pay to Karen Senerchia, and to change her personnel record to remove its original notice of a three-day penalty, replacing it with information about the lesser penalty.

While the newspaper could discipline Senerchia for leaving work, said Arbitrator Richard G. Boulanger, it went overboard in the harshness of the sanction.

He said that the three-day suspension was imposed in part because she protested loudly about her reassignment and used strong language. But Boulanger said there was testimony that this occurs "with some regularity" at The Journal without people being disciplined.

During the arbitration hearing, Richard McCaskill, Pre-publishing supervisor, "described the quality of her work as excellent. The evidence revealed that the grievant had received positive evaluations and regular promotions throughout her five-year career at the Journal,'' Boulanger wrote in an award issued April 24.

The arbitration award points to one of the important functions of the Guild: that even when the union does not get a complete reversal in a case, it is able to get inappropriate punishments sharply reduced.

This restores money and other benefits to somebody treated too harshly by the company, and gets the record changed, should the company try something again.

Senerchia is a member of the Guild's executive board, and had served before that on the Guild's unit council.

According to the arbitrator, Senerchia had been working a three-day week when she was asked to put in an extra shift Jan. 24, 2000, something she often does.

She was doing ad-proofing work normally done by specialists when McCaskill asked her to switch to typing ads. She protested, saying that the company had used temporary workers (irregular extras) for specialists' work in the past, but asked specialists to perform work, such as typing, normally performed by Pre-publishing operators.

The Guild and the company have had a long-running dispute because of the company's attempt to downgrade the work in the department from higher to lower-paid classifications. The dispute is a key one in the current protracted contract negotiations.

Also, Senerchia said she had an agreement with Richard O'Brien, Pre-publishing Department manager, allowing her to leave after only four hours when assigned to extra shifts, because her father was ill.

The Guild argued that when she protested the changed assignment after working four hours, that was "evidence of her level of physical and emotional fatigue" because of her father's illness.

The arbitrator noted that the company complained Senerchia had protested the assignment loudly and that profanity was used.

"The level of profanity used by the grievant is in dispute," the arbitrator wrote. "Journal witnesses testified that the grievant used the 'f' word, but Guild witnesses, including the grievant, stated that at most the grievant utilized the term `bullshit.' "

But the arbitrator noted that Wayne Pelland, director of operations, "admitted that other employees have used profanities while working on Journal premises, and they were not disciplined.''

Boulanger said the three-day suspension was issued in part because of the language and loudness of the protest, but that such talk "takes place with some regularity without discipline…therefore, a deduction from the three days of suspension is appropriate."

"The Journal shall forthwith make the grievant whole for two days' pay, and it shall forthwith remove any references in the grievant's personnel file to the three-day suspension and replaced it with notice of a one-day suspension," he said.

Two Guild Members
to Attend Belo Stockholders
May 9 Confab in Dallas

The Guild will send two stockholder-representatives to the annual stockholders' meeting of the Belo Corp., scheduled May 9 in Dallas.

The purpose is to alert fellow stockholders to troubles facing one of their key subsidiaries - The Providence Journal - as exemplified by the wasteful and expensive labor problems provoked by the company's managers.

The union's representatives will seek answers as to why the corporation has allowed the situation in Rhode Island to go on for a year-and-a-half, costing Belo thousands of dollars in legal fees, as well as a run-off of human capital, with the departure of key journalists, ad salespersons and other employees.

Attending for the Guild will be Kerry Kohring, a copy editor who owns shares of Belo, and who is a member of the union's executive board and negotiating committee. Kohring helps edit The Journal's daily business pages.

Also going to the session will be Brian Jones, another executive board member and a former financial writer for the newspaper, now assigned to the general assignment staff. Jones owns a small amount of Belo stock.

In addition to representing their own shares, Kohring and Jones will be voting the 170 shares held by the Providence local, shares owned by other Guild members, and 80 shares owned by The Newspaper Guild/ Communications Workers of America.

The executive board voted to send representatives to the meeting because its members felt it important that shareholders understand some of the destructive practices going on in Providence.

Further, the Guild members hope to learn more about the operations of the Belo parent corporation, since it exerts such strong control over The Journal, where the circulation slide has continued since the Dallas corporation bought the newspaper and its TV stations four years ago.

Guild-represented employees, like the corporation's thousands of other workers, are interested in management's thinking about the health of Belo -- which in the last quarter saw profits plummet more than 95 percent -- as well as its new business initiatives, such as the Cue:Cat technology that has earned disappointing reviews nationally.

Mainly, the Guild stockholders will focus on what they know intimately, the debacle of the labor situation here in Providence, where prolonged negotiations have added to an unpleasant work atmosphere, which has contributed to the departure of 55 workers in the past year-and-a-half.

Belo and The Journal Company have spent thousands of dollars in legal fees in what the Guild considers frivolous lawsuits to thwart the union's right to arbitration.

Most serious is the conduct that has earned The Journal 30 counts of unfair labor practice violation, which will be aired at a hearing by the National Labor Relations Board in June.

This will cost more lawyers' fees for Belo and The Journal to defend themselves, while the NLRB, not the Guild, will shoulder the cost of prosecution.

The only scheduled business on the stockholders' agenda, as described in the proxy statement, is the election of three directors, one of whom is Stephen Hamblett, 66, the retired Journal publisher who was responsible for Belo's purchase of The Journal in 1997.

Although Belo rules require retirement of directors at age 65, the proxy statement says that The Journal deal specified that Hamblett could remain on the board until he is 70.

The Guild executive board authorized funds to send Kohring and Jones to Dallas. The expenses include a total of $644 for airfare, $125 for a hotel room, plus two-days of lost work time for both workers, (travel necessitates two days), and miscellaneous costs.

Wear something black
every Thursday to show your support for a fair contract!

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