REPORT TO GUILD MEMBERS
This summer, the Guild will conducted a series of events, to remind the company that the Guild intends to press its case for a fair contract.
Among the events:
Meanwhile, various union committees remain busy preparing for the upcoming National Labor Relations Board hearings - now rescheduled for two weeks beginning Oct. 22 - and pressing our efforts to continue contract talks.
We also are completing our preliminary plans for a consumer boycott of the newspaper, so that we can present this tactic for a vote by the membership.
What follows is our report on the state the talks:
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WHAT IS THE STATUS OF NEGOTIATIONS?
Since talks began Oct. 28, 1999, there have been 18 sessions, the last of which was Feb. 14, 2001. There was a special meeting of the bargaining teams on June 21, 2001 to discuss three new workplace issues. The Guild has a standing offer to meet on the contract matters; the company has refused to accept it. The union also has asked for a follow-up session to the special meeting.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE COMPANY'S OFFER?
There are several "time-bombs," as one executive board member has labeled them, in the company's offer.
The union would have to turn its back on Guild members on whose behalf we have filed grievances. We would abandon the 40 workers in Pre-pub, who would not get equal union representation. We would be left without access to the same pension benefits as other Journal workers have.
Permitting a pension re-opener could create a situation whereby the company could propose second-class benefits - worse than now - then attempt to declare a legal "impasse" and impose the inferior plan, as it has done with the medical and dental plans.
The company's offer also is unfair because it takes away a holiday, stretches out vacation pay, introduces more costly health plans, takes most parking language out of the contract, and all without improvements or company concessions.
Most recently, the company has taken its first year wage offer off the table.
The proposal would leave Guild members worse off than when the contract ran out in February 2000 and worse off than other Journal workers.
WHAT DOES THE COMPANY WANT?
Initially, it appears to be trying to dictate terms unfavorable to the Guild. The executive board believes the company wants to so weaken the union that it will become irrelevant and eventually fade away. In other words, the company is trying to destroy the Guild.
WHAT DOES THE GUILD WANT?
The Guild's goal is a contract that will give its members benefits that, on balance, are equal to those of other workers, and which will provide fair wages and working conditions. It wants to be a spokesperson for its members and to stand up for the best professional practices in journalism, advertising and other areas of the newspaper.
WHAT ARE THE COMPANY'S TACTICS?
We don't have a management source, so we are basing our judgments on what the company has actually done in the past two years:
· Initially, the company expected that if it offered a wage offer of 3 percent, with "free" parking, the Guild would cave in, allowing the other negative aspects of its proposal to be accepted without of fight.
· Then the company launched a financial attack on the union. By suspending dues collection, and suggesting Guild members could resign, it appeared to hope Guild members would stop supporting the union. It also filed a lawsuits meant to spend down the union's savings.
· The company tried a divide-and-conquer approach. In letters to members, in its campaign against a Guild organizing drive in circulation and in conversations with union members, managers tried to create a gap between the Guild's members and its leadership. It scorned administrator Tim Schick and suggesting that the executive board is a radical group, out of touch with Guild members. A variation of this tactic was to separate the Guild from other unions, including reopening the Pressmen's contract a half-year early to reach a favorable agreement with that union.
· The company also has taken the low road of censorship, using its unique position as publisher of the state's major news source to keep virtually all news about the Guild dispute from the public.
· Finally, the company has adopted a wait-them-out strategy: trying to wear down the union and its members. As time goes on, the lack of a raise, the higher cost of the medical plan, and the tension of the on-going siege are intended to erode support for the union.
The company's actions have driven a number of good reporters and other employees away. It has sent employee morale plummeting, affecting productivity, sales and the quality of the paper. But it has failed to weaken the resolve of union members.
WHAT ARE THE GUILD'S TACTICS?
Just say no: The Guild's first line of defense has been to reject an offer that it thinks is unfair and dangerous to the union's survival. That is the significance of the Feb. 2-3, 2000 vote of 354 to 28 vote against the company's offer.
Press for more talks: The Guild has continued to move the negotiations forward. It has made significant modifications in its proposal, moving closer to the company's position, despite the fact that the company has never changed its position - except to take a way its offer of a year 2000 raise.
Fight anti-union moves: The Guild has successfully resisted the company's anti-union moves: we are collecting dues from most members, and the parent union, CWA, is picking up our legal costs. We have looked to arbitration, the courts and the National Labor Relations Board to support us in areas where we believe the company cheated in negotiations.
Legal action: The NLRB has issued a series of complaints against the paper, with 36 charges of labor law violation pending. These are to be tried in a court-like hearing before a federal administrative law judge Oct. 22, the latest date after two postponements. Should the Guild and the government win the case, the company would have to reinstate the terms of the contract that it changed in early 2000, such as restoring health benefits, the vacation and other takeaways, plus make amends in other ways.
Pressure tactics: The Guild membership authorized a work-to-rule program meant to slow company operations or make them more expensive. The union has held rallies and leafleted events attended by company executives. It has been open with other media in discussing the issues, something the company has shied from. The Guild has conducted byline strikes, to signal the public something is wrong at the newspaper.
Outside support: The Guild has sought the help of others, such as U.S Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, who spoke to both Belo Corp. and Journal officials. We have tried other "back channel" communications to get things moving. We proposed a debate between Guild and executives to be chaired by a respected outside individual. The union sent two representatives to speak at the annual Belo Corp. stockholders' meeting in Dallas.
Circulation boycott plans: Since last September, the Guild has been organizing a potential boycott of the paper's readers. We have worked with local unions of the AFL-CIO and independent unions, to collect thousands of postcard-like pledges promising to support the union if its members in fact authorize such an action.
A boycott is intended to put economic pressure on the company, while keeping Guild members on the job. This is an alternative to a strike, which remains an option.
WHEN WILL THIS COME TO AN END?
We don't know.
The Guild believes that the negotiations could be ended quickly if the company wanted to settle: the basic points could be agreed to in several hours.
The prospect seems to be that this dispute will continue for many more months.
But it will end.
The company for two years fought the Guild's grievance that argued that Guild members deserved 1.02 percent higher pay hikes in 1999 than were initially granted. After a long arbitration, then the filing of a federal lawsuit, the money was paid out.
WHAT CAN MEMBERS DO?
Volunteer for the many tasks needed to keep things going. We need help almost every week with mailings, such as monthly dues bills sent to members, and with boycott pledge cards mailed to other unions.
Support a united front. Wear black on Thursdays. Pin on Guild buttons. Put bumper stickers on your cars. Support byline strikes if they are called. Attend rallies.
Get involved in the operation of the union: Run for the Executive Board or Unit Council. Attend membership meetings. Volunteer to serve on the negotiating committee. Write or edit The Guild Leader.
Think. There is no magic formula to any of this. All suggestions are valuable. Propose ideas Guild leaders haven't thought of. Dream up new slogans. Understand the company's business needs. Participate in the Guild's computer listserv, an exchange of ideas on-line. Don't suffer in silence: if company tactics are troubling you, share that with union leaders or other members.
Mostly, help the union stay strong. Remember, we are a union of 500 individuals. Not all of us agree about everything. Not all of us feel comfortable with every action: some people rejoice in rallies, others hate to be seen in public. But do what you can, individually and collectively, to support the Guild.
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495