Belo stockholders learn of troubles in Providence
at annual meeting; Guild leaders give 3 public speeches,
confer privately with Decherd and other company brass
Two members of
the Guild's executive committee yesterday told the leaders and stockholders
of the Belo Corp. that the Guild is upset with the Providence Journal's
approach to negotiations and wants to work toward a settlement.
After three speeches
and several private conversations with Belo officials at the annual stockholders'
meeting in Dallas, Brian Jones and Kerry Kohring said they believe they
got their point across.
was the final comment from Belo chairman Robert Decherd after Jones and
Kohring spoke with him privately after the meeting.
Responding to the
Guild speeches at the stockholders' meeting, Decherd expressed "complete
confidence in [Journal publisher] Howard Sutton and his management team."
"I also make
the point that it is critical to all of us to balance the financial and
the journalistic direction of this company,'' Decherd told the stockholders.
"We've had a spectacular experience at the Providence Journal.
We would also like to have a contract."
A few days ago, Jones
wrote to Decherd requesting a private meeting while he and Kohring were
in Dallas. Decherd did not respond to the letter, but he did listen when
the Guild leaders approached him as he stood alone at the podium after
the meeting ended around 11 a.m. yesterday morning.
"I said we really
need to do something to get this resolved,'' Jones said by phone from
the airplane as he and Kohring returned last night. "He understood
what we were saying."
They were also pleased
to learn that Decherd seemed to be aware, in some detail, of the problems
in Providence, including the fact that the Guild had contacted Journal
advertisers and that numerous people had left the company in the past
year and a half.
Jones and Kohring
were able to attend the stockholders' meeting because both own Belo stock,
as does the Guild. The meeting was attended by about 300 to 400 people,
Jones said, but most appeared to be corporate employees.
At a breakfast buffet
before the meeting, the Guild's emissaries ran into Sutton. They told
him they would like to talk about resolving the conflict. "Sutton's
response was: `We have a very good offer on the table, and it's looking
better in these economic times,' '' Jones said. Sutton also asserted that
the company did not want to break the union and that the company had to
do the best it could for the stockholders as well.
The pair approached
Journal vice president Mark Ryan with the same entreaty, but Ryan said
that neither he nor they were authorized to negotiate in that setting.
Jones pointed out that negotiations weren't working. Ryan replied, "We
had 18 sessions."
"He didn't give
any encouragement,'' Jones said.
Later, Jones and Kohring
buttonholed Burl Osborne, publisher of the Dallas Morning News, the Belo
Corp.'s flagship newspaper. "We told him we wanted to get the thing
done,'' Jones said. "He said we have to deal with Sutton. I said
it wasn't working -- could he intercede? He said, `I will pass along what
you said.' ''
The only order of
business at the stockholders' meeting was the election of directors to
their second term, including former Journal publisher Steven Hamblett.
Before that came to vote, stockholders had an opportunity to speak.
Jones was one of only
three people who spoke. He described the "terrible situation in Providence,''
mentioning the company's violations of federal labor laws and the loss
of 55 talented employees. "We're losing people and we're losing good
will," he said.
Decherd replied that
the company remains focused on journalism and that the Journal had had
"a spectacular year."
After the election
of directors, another open comment period occurred, and Jones again spoke.
He called the problems in Providence "a train wreck" and said
something had gone wrong ever since Belo took over.
"We're in a civil
war and we need to be working together," he said.
Kohring noted that
circulation is declining and that Journal management's actions were leading
toward a consumer boycott of the newspaper.
"You have stated
that `at the core of Belo's strategy are people,'
'' Kohring told
Decherd, "yet the actions of Journal management have resulted in
the exodus of at least 55 experienced news gatherers and advertising sales
people in the last year and a half.'' He mentioned the 30 unfair labor
practice charges that are "eroding the credibility of the newspaper
and incurring tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.''
of the Providence Newspaper Guild stand eager to cooperate in making the
paper healthy and profitable,'' Kohring said, "yet the current management
continues to refuse to even talk with them."
In his response to
Jones's and Korhing's comments at the meeting, Decherd praised Journal
management. He noted that since Belo acquired the Journal, the company
reached a three-year contract with the Guild and a two-year contract with
the Teamsters. He asserted that Belo has had positive labor relations
elsewhere in the company.
Decherd said that
the Journal circulation had increased in March and the company was hoping
for continuing increases.
"We are keenly
aware, thanks to the union's various publications, that a number of people
have left the company,'' Decherd said, but he called it "normal turnover."
"We have been
very careful to understand where these people have gone,'' he said, noting
that some have gone to the Boston Globe and The New York Times.
Asked to assess the
Guild's effort yesterday, Jones said that he and Kohring went onto Belo's
home turf and delivered the Guild's message loud and clear. "We politely
and with some restraint made the point three times that we were both upset
with the course of what was going on and wanted to get it resolved,''
Jones said. "My comments were trying to say that we had a joint responsibility
to get this done."
"Kerry and I
are pretty pleased,'' Jones said.
"It's very likely that something like this has never happened before'' at a Belo stockholders' meeting, Jones said. He noted that Belo had intended to Webcast the meeting. "It's going to be interesting to see if they will."
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495