PROJO SUFFERS 3RD COURT LOSS; DROPS ROUND IN 'PRE-PUB 6' CASE
· U.S magistrate says court case to collect pay hikes and bonus for six Pre-Publication workers can go forward; rejects company motion
· Complex suit seen as another attempt by company to use courts to duck contract obligations and run up unions' legal bills
In the third such ruling this month, a federal court official has ruled against the Providence Journal - and in favor of Guild members - in a contract dispute.
The latest win involves one phase of the so-called "Pre-Pub 6" case, in which six former composing room workers, now members of the Guild, are seeking two year's worth of pay hikes and a profit performance bonus.
Federal Magistrate Judge David L. Martin's has recommended that the case be allowed to go forward, and that the company's attempt to throw it out be rejected.
Martin's recommendation must be ratified by a federal District Court judge.
The six Guild members involved worked in the old "composing room," a production area, which was originally organized by the Providence Typographical Union No. 33 and now has evolved into the Pre-Publication Department.
When changes were made in composing room duties 15 years ago, the compositors were offered lifetime jobs, and signed individual contracts guaranteeing them raises and other benefits enjoyed by other Journal workers.
Both the Guild and the PTU are part of the Communications Workers of America.
The unions contend that because of their individual agreements, the six are due the 2000 and 2001 wage hikes and a 2000 bonus granted other company workers, but held back from the Guild during its dispute over a new contract.
The company has tried a series of legal moves to keep these six workers from getting their money. It refused to follow the grievance procedure, then opposed an initial lawsuit brought by the workers and the Guild, and now is fighting a second lawsuit by the workers and the PTU/CWA.
Magistrate Martin's recommendation, issued Nov. 8, finds no merit in several company legal arguments, and rejects the company's attempt to the block the case.
This means that once again, the company's questionable legal moves - aimed at hurting individuals as well as the Guild - have been spurned by federal authorities.
In this month alone:
· Federal District Court Judge Mary M. Lisi Nov. 1 turned down the company's request to postpone an arbitration that she had ordered in the Guild's grievance over the company's halt in payroll dues collection and enforcement of union membership rules. The company has appealed her arbitration ruling and had asked that the case be held up in meantime.
· Nov. 9, the federal Court of Appeals rejected the company's attempt to cancel an arbitration won by the union in a nearly 4-year-old case about the company's refusal to provide subsidized parking to eligible workers in its Parkade garage.
What these latest cases have shown is that at a time when the entire newspaper industry is crying poverty, the Journal and its parent company, Belo Corp., are willing to squander money on law suits designed solely to hurt the Guild and its members.
The company's legal maneuvers also repudiates the claim by Mark T. Ryan, promoted Nov. 11 to Journal general manager, that the company dislikes court suits:
"We prefer to negotiate rather than litigate," Ryan wrote to Journal workers on March 7, 2000.
The Pre-Pub 6 case shows how hollow Ryan's claim is.
HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED:
When computerization changed newspaper production methods, composing room workers in 1986 were offered lifetime jobs under individual employment agreements. The so-called IEAs guaranteed them the wage hikes and bonus received by other Journal workers.
In 1998, the PTU and the company reached a settlement agreement that resolved a jurisdictional dispute with the Guild about representation of composing room workers.
The agreement dissolved the PTU bargaining unit, and the PTU union said it no longer was interested in representing composing room workers, now members of the Guild. The agreement reaffirmed the individual employment contracts. The Guild pledged to honor the individual agreements.
The court cases arose during current negotiations for a new Guild contract, during which the company has refused to give Guild members 3- percent wage hikes granted other Journal workers in years 2000 and 2001, plus a 2000 bonus.
While the Guild continues to negotiate for those benefits for all bargaining unit members, it contends that the six compositors in Pre-Pub should get the benefits immediately because of their IEAs.
However, when the Guild filed a grievance, the company went to court to block arbitration, saying the Guild wasn't a party to the original settlement agreement.
A federal magistrate ruled against the Guild in an early phase of that suit, so the Guild/CWA's national legal office recommended another strategy, and that case was withdrawn.
The new strategy was to have the PTU and the CWA file the case along with the six workers.
The company then tried to have the new case thrown out, arguing that it was simply the old case, with the PTU substituted for the Guild as one of the plaintiffs.
But the magistrate ruled the PTU rightfully belongs in the case.
The company also argued that the PTU was out of business, saying it had failed to maintain filings with the Rhode Island secretary of state.
But the PTU argued it still is active, maintains an office in Johnston, represents workers with "various Rhode Island employers" and has a treasury.
Magistrate Martin noted that even if the PTU was no long active, it still has a right to enforce agreements it made earlier.
"This court finds that the union's disavowal of interest in representing the composing room employees in the future does not deprive it of standing to sue to enforce rights gain under the settlement agreement," he said.
IF THIS SOUNDS like an exhausting and long volley in a legal tennis match, it is.
It demonstrates again this underlying theme: the company is refusing to honor its legal obligations to Guild members and is willing to spend Belo dollars to keep even six workers from getting what they have a right to.
The Pre-Pub 6 case provides a backdrop to another set of legal charges against the company: 47 unfair labor practices brought against the company by the National Labor Relations Board.
Those allegations - ranging from failure to bargain, imposing contract givebacks, intimidating workers, making regressive changes in the contract - are currently scheduled to be heard Feb. 25 before an administrative law judge.
The Guild believes that it would be cheaper for the company to settle the contract than to pursue all of these legal cases.
The national Guild and CWA are picking up the local Guild's legal costs.
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495