PROJO MAKES 'ME-TOO' WAGE PAYOUT
· 1.02 % wage boost ends 2-year-old case
· Checks cut for back pay to January 1999
· Guild tried to negotiate while pursuing case
· Company chides arbitrator, scolds Guild
Facing a federal lawsuit by the Guild, the Providence Journal yesterday finally complied with an arbitrator's "me-too" pay award. It hiked bargaining unit wage scales by 1.02 percent and paid out an estimated $500,000 in back wages retroactive to Jan. 1, 1999.
The payout appears to end a long dispute dating back to Feb. 22, 1999, when the Guild filed a grievance contending that the union's pay hike in 1999 should have been slightly more than 4 percent, rather than the 3.02 percent implemented by the newspaper.
The increase will hike weekly wages approximately $5 to $10 a week, depending upon wage scales; the back pay checks range from about $600 to more than $1,300.
This marks the first pay raise that Guild members have received since the beginning of 1999, because the company has refused to grant pay hikes during the drawn-out negotiations for a new contract to replace the one that expired at the end of January 2000.
Union members earlier this year received a "Profit Performance bonus" that had been paid to non-Guild employees of the paper. But they also have faced major increases in living costs because of new health insurance premium co-pay hikes and fees the company forced on the Guild.
AS IT HANDED OUT THE CHECKS late in the afternoon, the company also distributed a petulant letter in which it criticized the union for bringing the grievance, and chided the arbitrator, who it said "bought the literalistic argument made by the Guild and came down with an incorrect arbitration award."
The letter was so sharply worded that Guild members in the newsroom began reading it aloud even before opening pay envelopes, saying they were surprised by the sour grapes tone.
Tim Schick, the Guild administrator, said later that he was caught short by the company's letter, saying that when the Guild loses an arbitration or doesn't get everything it wants from a decision, it refrains from criticizing the arbitrator.
"While there are occasions in which we disagree with arbitrators, although disappointed, we live with the results," Schick said.
Schick noted that the company had taken steps to drag out the proceedings as long as possible.
Arbitrator Gary D. Altman had ruled in the Guild's favor July 26, 2000, but the company argued over payout details, which Altman resolved in a supplemental decision Feb. 15 of this year.
The Guild asked the company to put the award into effect promptly, waited two months for the newspaper to act, then filed suit in U.S. District Court, asking a federal judge to enforce the arbitration award, which under the Guild's contract is supposed to be binding on both sides.
IT WAS AGAINST this background that the company made the distribution.
The office of Thomas J. McDonough, human resources director, faxed Schick a letter about late yesterday afternoon, saying that the company would comply with the decision, with the rate hikes adjusted as of May 6.
About 30 minutes later, checks were inserted into employee mailboxes, along with the letter appearing over McDonough's name, which unlike the businesslike message sent to the Guild, harshly criticized Administrator Schick and union leaders.
"As you know, one of the many regrettable disputes we have had with your Guild leadership had to do with an interpretation of a wage provision in the expired collective bargaining agreement, " the letter said.
The letter went on to say that the company "did our best to negotiate this dispute," but accused the Guild leadership of taking "an incorrect and literalistic interpretation" of contract language.
THE GUILD HAS A DIFFERENT view of the history of the dispute and attempts to resolve it.
Far from refusing to negotiate the pay hike, the Guild inserted the matter into bargaining when talks began, saying it would be willing to trade it for gaining access to Belo Corp. fringe benefits that it sought as a major goal in the new contract.
In a Guild Leader published a week before negotiations began, Schick was quoted as telling union members that the Guild expected to win the arbitration and that "we told the company that over the course of bargaining, we are willing to take a look at the case. Maybe there are some things we want that are a half-million dollars in other benefits. That is hanging out there."
Further, in a major revision of its negotiating proposal last May, the Guild offered to drop the pay-raise grievance in exchange for other gains. The company turned down the entire proposal.
It had been the Guild's policy to be willing to negotiate the arbitration award, but also to steadily pursue the case, in the event negotiations failed to produce an agreement.
HERE'S HOW THE DISPUTE UNFOLDED: For the year 1999, the Guild's contract called for a wage increase of 2 percent. In addition, the contract's "Gainsharing bonus" provision called for another 1 percent hike if company profits hit pre-set targets, plus a cash bonus payout. In fact, the target was met, so Guild members got a cash payment equal to 1 percent of annual pay, and the wage scale was hiked a total of 3.02 percent, including compounding.
Meanwhile, other unions and non-union workers were granted the same 3.02 percent wage boost. In addition, those workers were covered by a different bonus plan, the so-called "Profit Performance" program. That paid out a higher cash bonus than the Guild had received - 2.25 percent - but did not boost the basic wage scales.
SCHICK NOTED THAT the Guild's contract contained a so-called "me-too" provision, which said that the Guild would get the same wage scale hike granted other unions. It argued it should get the 3.02 percent others received, plus an extra 1.02 percent from the Gainsharing boost.
Arbitrator Altman agreed with the Guild.
The following year, the company declined to make a Gainsharing bonus payment to the Guild, arguing that it had not met the new targets - although it has never provided the figures to back that up. But non-Guild workers got a Profit Performance bonus of 2.75 percent.
In 2001, both Guild and non-Guild workers received the Profit Performance bonus payment.
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495