Vol XIl, Issue 48 TNG/CWA Local 31041 Oct. 15, 2001

In Our Own Words


'A boycott will reduce more revenues, prompting even more reduction in costs.'

I'm against a circulation boycott for two reasons:

First, I feel it's against what we stand for as newspaper people. I know that many are angry over the standoff, but we shouldn't let that provoke us into crippling the paper we hold in trust. That's what a circulation boycott would do.

I understand the goal is to pressure management, but a boycott hits the wrong target.

The Journal's circulation is currently near a modern low. To knowingly strip away thousands of subscribers - maybe tens of thousands - would devastate the newspaper itself.

I believe it's false to think we can get those subscribers back, no matter how organized we are with pledge cards. Once readers lose the daily habit, many never return. That could be especially true now, with a recession making household money tighter than ever. The result? We'll be a smaller paper in every way: Smaller staff, smaller news hole, smaller news budget, smaller compensation gains. We Guild members would pay that price.

That is, unless the company caves.

But that brings up the second reason I'm against a boycott - the strategic reason.

Can a boycott push the company into meeting union demands? I can't imagine it. In the last few years, we've seen the economy tank to a point where newspaper layoffs became common. Since Sept. 11, it has tanked further.

We've seen the Journal lose such critical advertisers as Apex and Ann and Hope. Most important, management has now frozen wages and is seeking buyouts.

It's unimaginable to picture Belo fattening its union offer at the same time it is almost desperately slashing costs. How could any company increase pay for one select group while freezing everyone else?

It's far more likely that the opposite will happen: more takebacks. Why wouldn't it? The company's entire focus is reducing costs due to reduced revenues. A boycott will reduce more revenues, prompting even more reduction in costs. Which costs? I think a yes vote on the boycott will be a yes vote for layoffs and an even more reduced Guild offer.

In my view, the Guild's strategy has been a miscalculation. We could have had three years of 3 percent raises, but have instead gone almost two years with no raises - and now face at least two more no-raise years.

Whether you blame the Guild or management, the truth is that the union is now in a corner because the economy collapsed while the standoff stretched on. The only proven truth so far is that the longer we wait, the worse our situation gets.

Some say the boycott will work because it'll be the first time we'll hit the company financially. I suppose there's a small chance that's true. But for all the above reasons, a yes vote will almost certainly backfire like a hand grenade dropped at our own feet. And it will damage a fine newspaper.

So what should we do? Well, I see the company's offer like a stock. We kept waiting for it to go up, but it instead went down. The reality is that it could, and probably will go down further if we keep waiting - especially if we choose a boycott.

I keep thinking: "We should have taken the old offer."

Six months from now, we could easily be thinking the same thing about the reduced offer now on the table.

Unless we take a deep breath, vote to accept it, and move on before things get even worse.

'Hopefully, preparation
for a boycott will bring
the company to its senses and to the table.'

We all have a tough choice next week. It is one I do not really want to face. And it bothers me that some Guild members seem to be venting their anger at the company through the boycott proposal.

I have many fears. Perhaps the biggest is that if we are successful, we end will up diminishing the market for the work done by our members. This is never a good thing for a union. And as Belo shareholder (albeit a small one) I know this is not a good thing for the company.

And I sometimes get exasperated with the endless complaints against the company, the list-serve hand-wringing and whining.

We all take pride in our work. In the weeks since Sept. 11, The janitors, editors, ad salespeople, support staff and reporters have all been doing what we do best - giving the citizens of southeastern New England the information they need to deal with a changed world.

Still, I have reluctantly come to the decision that we must support our union leadership on the boycott issue.

This is not a good time to undercut our leaders and undermine our union. Even though things are not well at the newspaper, we should not blame the Guild or its leadership.

The only raise we have had since January, 1999 was the 1-percent increase, which was due to a Guild contract provision that the union battled all the way to Federal Court.

Unlike the company, we are a democracy; we choose our own leaders and policies. "We" really are the union. If this sometimes makes our affairs look messy and our arguments petty, well, so be it. This is the price we pay for taking responsibility for our destiny.

No one can predict the future. The newspaper was sold within a few months of the last major employee buyout in the mid-1990s, shortly after then-publisher Stephen Hamblett said the Journal was ''Not for sale.''

Absent a Guild contract does anyone really believe management would do anything but lay people off, merrily cherry-picking the building?

The fact is, the Guild members in Providence have been doing our part for Belo's revenues since 1999. And it was not the Guild that instituted such multi-million dollar boondoggles as the Cue Cat.

The Guild has been a fixture at the Journal since 1959. It is the reason we traditionally have had decent wages and benefits. That tradition is under attack by a management that seems driven by something other than fair play. A management that wanted to play fair would never have pulled the dues check-off, would never have put itself in a position to be subject to so many unfair labor practice charges.

All that most rank-and-file members of the Guild want is to reopen negotiations and forge an agreement that both sides can live with. The Guild has been willing to do this all along.

Voting for the boycott does not mean a boycott will start immediately. The union leadership will call one when it believes it will do the most good. As far as I am concerned there is only one goal - getting the company back to the table for meaningful talks.

Union members realize the world has changed, the country is headed for a recession and that revenues are down. Many of us believe we can deal with some of these restrictions, but only if management gives us the chance.

When it comes to Belo's stock price, the equity markets do not want to hear that there is a threat of a consumer boycott in Providence.

Hopefully showing the company we are serious about preparing for a boycott will bring the company to its senses and back to the table.

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