Vol XIII, Issue 19 TNG/CWA Local 31041 July 26, 2002

Q & A:
This week, the Guild received a 16-page arbitration decision that upheld the contract's requirements for union membership and dues. Here are some questions and answers about the ruling.

QUESTION: What does the arbitration decision announced this week mean about membership in the Providence Newspaper Guild?
ANSWER: Workers within the Guild bargaining unit are required to join the union when they are hired, and to maintain their membership, as a condition of employment. (Also see next Question & Answer). Workers who were members before the contract was terminated by the company, on Feb. 1, 2000, are required to remain members.

Q: What if someone does not wish to belong to the Guild?
A: Under federal law, they still must pay a fee to the Guild equivalent to union dues, which covers the union's costs to represent them. Even if a person is not a member of the Guild, the union is legally obligated to protect them, by filing grievances on their behalf and, of course, by negotiating a new contract. Non-members can't vote in Guild meetings and elections.

Q: Who must pay dues?
A: Members of the bargaining unit, with some exceptions. Generally, all people hired in recent years must pay dues or the equivalent fees to the union. The exceptions are those people who have been exempted in previous years. For example, prior to 1995, one of every ten workers hired by The Journal could decide not to join, and some chose not to.

Q: Why is there even a question about union membership?
A: After the Guild soundly rejected the company's contract offer early in 2000, the company wrote to Guild members that they were free to belong or they could choose not to. The company also said dues paying was voluntary. The Guild believes this was one of the company's major assaults on the union, hoping to lure people away from the Guild and to weaken the union's treasury.

Q: Was the company wrong?
A: Yes. Arbitrator Roberta Golick conducted a hearing, listened to testimony, and read the contract and other union-company documents. She found that the company and the union agreed six years ago that the "union security clause" would stay in force through not only the old contract, but the next one, too. That means the membership and dues-paying obligations remain in effect during negotiations, and at least through the end of the agreement that still is being bargained.

Q: What did the arbitrator say that the company should do to correct its misinformation?
A: First the company must write to each worker and tell them its 2000 letter was wrong. Then it must say that the union membership and dues requirements have remained in effect and will continue to do so. The company also must post this acknowledgement on its Web site.

Q: Does the company have to pay any money to the Guild?
A: Yes. Golick said The Journal must pay the Guild money equal to what it did not collect from workers following the release of the wrong information. The Guild on July 24 mailed and faxed the company a bill for $210,346.59. Golick also ordered the Journal to pay interest on this balance beginning in 30 days from July 24.

Q: What does the company's payment represent?
A: Only the money that wasn't collected by the Guild after the erroneous letter. In fact, about 73 percent of all money that should have been paid in dues has been paid by an overwhelming majority of Guild members, who have stayed loyal to the Guild and faithfully paid their dues, even though they haven't had a regular pay hike in three years.

Q: Will the people who haven't paid be required to do so now?
A: Yes. The company has been ordered to tell them and others in the bargaining unit that they must pay their dues directly to the union.

Q: Can the company collect money from the people who didn't pay?
A: Golick did not answer the question of what the company can do, and the company has not yet given the Guild its response to the decision. Here's what the ruling said: "The remedy for the company's contract breach is that it make the Guild whole for its losses. The company's right to thereafter recoup unpaid dues payments from individual members is beyond the scope of this contract dispute."

Q: What will the Guild do?
A: The union will demand that the company bargain with the union before it attempts to collect from the workers who have been behind in their dues. The Guild and its lawyers continue to explore this and other aspects of the Golick decision.

Q: What if some workers still refuse to pay their fair share as required by the contract and now by the arbitrator?
A: Payment of dues is a condition of employment, so they risk losing their jobs.

Q: How do I pay my dues?
A: Directly to the union. The one part of the decision that the Guild lost was the so-called "dues checkoff" issue. Prior to February 2000, the company had been withholding dues from paychecks, and turning over the money to the Guild, similar to what happens with tax, credit union and other withholdings. But to make life difficult for the union and its members, when it declined to extend the contract, the company suspended checkoff, and Golick said this was permitted. To ease the payment process, the Guild provides two ways: either by monthly check or monthly credit card charge. The Guild mails out bills to people who pay by check, and automatically charges credit cards for the others. Call the Guild office if you have questions: 421-9466.

Q: Can the company try to fight this arbitration in court?
A: It shouldn't. Arbitration is supposed to be binding on both parties, as a way of avoiding court fights. But the Journal already has gone to federal District Court in Providence in an attempt to prevent this arbitration. But it lost. That's why the hearing could be held before Arbitrator Golick. But the company also appealed the lower court decision, and the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston is to hear that matter Aug. 2. Unsatisfied when it loses, the company has attempted to go to court to appeal "binding" arbitrations in the past - and lost. The Guild believes that's part of the company's attempt to stretch things out, the justice-delayed is justice-denied abuse of the legal system. As of now, the company hasn't said yet what its plans are.

Q: What if the Guild continues to win in court, but the company refuses to abide by the arbitrator's decision?
A: The Guild will then ask a federal judge to enforce the decision. That's what happened last year when the Guild won a retroactive 1 percent pay raise: the company delayed paying until the union filed suit in court.

Q: How much are Guild dues?
A: The rate is 1.8 percent of pay, plus 22-cents-a-week.

Q: Where can I learn more about this?
A: We will post the arbitration decision on the Guild's website: www.riguild.org. (It's here.) Copies are available in the Guild office. Newsletters about earlier rounds in the dispute are also archived on the Web site.

Copyright © 2002 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495