Ruling: Dues Mandatory
ARBITRATOR SAYS PROJO MISLED EMPLOYEES;
ORDERS NEWSPAPER TO REIMBURSE THE GUILD
The decision is a setback to the company's attack on the union.
An arbitrator has ruled that the Providence Journal Co. misled workers two years ago when it told them they didn't have to pay Guild dues.
A provision of the Guild's contract requires all bargaining unit members to pay dues or a nearly equivalent fee, even though the company terminated the contract Feb. 1, 2000, the arbitrator said.
Because the Journal misled employees about their dues obligations, the company must now pay the Guild money equal to that which the union hasn't collected, said Arbitrator Roberta Golick.
The company also must write to each bargaining unit member - and post on its Web site - that employees have been, and continue to be, required to pay Guild dues.
(Under federal law, individuals who don't actually join the Guild must still pay the union for its representational services when there is a union security clause).
The ruling is a major loss for the company, because it strikes at one its major attempts to weaken the union - by urging members to leave the union and to starve its treasury.
As it is, Guild members have shown great loyalty to the union. Just a few have quit, and the overwhelming majority of members have continued to pay their dues.
The company's bill totals $210,346.59 covering the 30-month period since the Journal launched its financial attack on the Guild. The union mailed the accounting to the company yesterday.
During the past 30 months, about 73 percent of the dues money has been paid by Guild members. Labor experts have told the union that this is a remarkably high amount in such circumstances -- and is a tribute to the steadfastness of the union's membership.
The arbitrator ruled against the union on one key point: she said that the company does not have to collect dues through payroll deduction, so-called "dues checkoff."
But she emphasized that the company must tell all workers to pay the dues directly to the Guild.
The checkoff provision lapsed with the termination of the contract February 2000, she said, unlike the membership clause, which outlives
the old contract and remains in effect.
Ramifications of the decision are broad, and the Guild and its lawyers are examining the still-unfolding legal implications.
Just how soon the decision will be enforced also is unclear.
The company has continually attempted to use the federal court system to stall or evade this case. It is possible the paper will return to court to seek once again to duck its legal responsibilities.
When the Guild first sought to arbitrate this case, the company asked the federal District Court in Providence to block it. Instead, a judge ruled that the matter should be arbitrated - and that hearing went forward.
In the meantime, the company appealed the District Court ruling, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals is to hear that case in Boston Aug. 2.
The Guild believes that the company's legal tactics have a dual purpose: to waste the union's time and money in an attempt to wear down the resolve of the Guild.
However, the Guild's parent unions, the Communications Workers of America and The Newspaper Guild, have been picking up the local's legal fees.
THE FIGHT OVER UNION MEMBERSHIP and dues goes back to the opening salvos of the company's attack on the union.
After talks began for a new contract Oct. 28, 1999, the company unilaterally imposed a series of take-aways and gave the Guild a "final offer" that was rejected by union members in a record 354-to-28 vote. The company, which had agreed to extend the contract through January 2000, then refused to extend it further.
In response to the contract vote, Thomas McDonough, the company's human resources chief, wrote to Guild members that the newspaper was "disappointed" in the offer rejection. He also said:
"All Guild bargaining unit members are free to join or not join the Guild, to pay dues or not. No one is now required to pay dues as a condition of employment."
But the Guild argued, and Arbitrator Golick agreed, that the union membership clause of the contract remained in force because of a provision negotiated in 1996.
That measure is known as an "evergreen" provision, which keeps the contract clause alive through the end of the next contract -- the one that still has to be agreed to by the union and the company.
The evergreen provision was negotiated by a Guild contract committee led by Administrator Tim Schick, who testified at the arbitration hearing.
"Were there any question, however (about the measure), the unrefuted testimony of Guild Administrator Tim Schick and documentation exchanged by the parties in their 1996-1997 negotiations would eliminate any doubt," Arbitrator Golick wrote.
THE ARBITRATOR SAID that since the membership provisions stayed in effect, the company was clearly wrong in telling Guild members otherwise.
"Simply put," Golick wrote, "employees are required to become members of the Guild and maintain their membership as a condition of employment. To the extent that any employee stopped paying dues to the Guild following management's erroneous announcement, the company caused injury to the Guild, and that must be remedied."
Golick ordered the company to correct the misinformation.
"The announcement must acknowledge the error and provide corrected information, including the fact that employees are responsible to pay their dues directly to the Guild during the contractual hiatus," she said.
And the company must pay more than lip service. It also must atone in cash, Golick said.
"The company is singularly responsible for the Guild's loss of dues income following its erroneous announcement," Golick said.
"It is reasonable, therefore, that the company make the Guild whole for demonstrable losses: an amount equal to the checkoff amounts that would have been collected, offset by amounts that the Guild did collect."
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495