Vol XIII, Issue 20 TNG/CWA Local 31041 August 1, 2002

NLRB Again Cites Journal

Journal now faces total of 65 unfair labor practice complaints.

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NLRB trial
- the second this year -
set for Oct. 21.

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Feds fault company on threats after intern went to Guild event.

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Charges paper refused to bargain with Guild over proposed contract.

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Says company altered copy editor duties to evade arbitration

The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against the Providence Journal Co., containing 11 new allegations of labor law violations. The complaint brings to 65 the number of counts issued in the past 2½ years against the company in its dealings with the Providence Newspaper Guild.

In announcing the new counts, the NLRB scheduled a hearing on these and 10 others that the federal agency had issued in April. The board said the court-like proceedings will begin Monday, Oct. 21, in Providence, at a location to be announced.

This new hearing will be similar to the one held in February and March in Pawtucket. The Guild is awaiting a ruling by the administrative law judge who heard testimony during a two-week period.

Announcement of the new counts - which still have to stand the test of a hearing and possible appeals - adds to the record of corporate misbehavior that the newspaper and its Texas owner, the Belo Corp., have compiled in negotiations with the Guild that began in late 1999.

The complaints mean that lawyers in the Boston regional office of the NLRB have found reason to believe that the company has broken federal laws in a variety of ways - from intimidation of union members to failure to bargain properly with the Guild.

Some of the new counts involve the company's take-it-or-leave-it contract proposal made Feb. 20, right before the first round of NLRB hearings.

That was an offer in which the company cut its contract proposal below earlier proposals and crafted a six-year contract that would have allowed the company in the final years of the pact to dictate wages and non-pension fringe benefits the same way it does with non-union workers - without negotiating with the Guild.

The NLRB found labor law violations in several areas of that proposal:

• The company refused a Guild request to meet with the company about the new offer.

• While refusing to negotiate with the Guild, the company sent union members its proposal and urged them to force acceptance of the proposal. That maneuver, in the eyes of NLRB investigators, amounted to "direct dealing," a practice in which a company bypasses the union by appealing directly to employees.

• It also was a "regressive" proposal that backtracked on previous proposals.

• And, as part of the proposed deal, the NLRB said, the company illegally preconditioned it on the union's dropping its unfair labor practice charges.

The issuance of new complaints continues a familiar pattern: the company thumbs its nose at labor laws; the union brings the alleged violations to the attention of NLRB officials in the Boston regional office; the regional office agrees with most of the union's complaints and issues more counts - which eventually will be heard by a judge.

The new trial is slated to be conducted by the same judge who presided over the first hearing. The outcome of the trial is subject to appeal to the NLRB in Washington and then to the federal court system.

A complaint is the equivalent of an indictment, meaning the NLRB's regional lawyers think there is sufficient evidence to back the charges filed by the Guild against the newspaper.

In one instance in the latest round of complaints against The Journal, charges stem from the company's allegedly illegal behavior that followed its loss of an arbitration ruling. Here's what the Guild and the NLRB say happened:

The Guild originally filed for arbitration, saying that the company wasn't paying Features Department copy editors properly for their work. The Guild won, and the company was ordered to pay "small grid" allowances to editors who were doing work in higher classifications for at least half of their shifts.

Within days after receiving the ruling, the company changed the copy editors' duties to avoid the small grid premiums. The action, the NLRB charged, was taken because the copy editors helped build the union's case, and the changes were a form of retaliation "to discourage employees from engaging in these activities." The board also said the company's changes cost the editors' small grid payments without negotiating the changes with the union.

Another charge also involves intimidation for union activity.

When a union member invited a two-year intern reporter to tag along at a union event - the Guild was distributing leaflets about its contract dispute - the union member happened to mention that to an editor. The editor admonished the senior worker for ruining the career of the intern.

The NLRB also charged that the company failed to provide the Guild with names of part-time workers who were included in the 401(k) pension plan. The union had asked for the information to check whether the workers were being paid the correct 401(k) contributions.

Also listed among the new counts is a charge that following last year's buyout program - in which nearly 100 persons left the company - the company refused to bargain over workplace changes that resulted after so many workers departed.

Other new counts are that the company changed small grid payments for an editorial assistant in Features, and that it changed its practices related to issuance of company credit cards without negotiating with the Guild.

These counts have been "consolidated" into a series of charges that were issued earlier by the Boston office that involve similar allegations.

Some of those earlier charges involved the transfer of reporter Karen Lee Ziner to the 4-to-midnight late reporter shift in the newsroom because of her union activity.

Other charges allege that the company involuntarily transferred some workers from the advertising to the news bargaining unit, changed ad-department layoff-and force-reduction rules, changed medical-leave rules and denied the union information.

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