Vol XIII, Issue 23 TNG/CWA Local 31041 Sept. 17, 2002

Judge: Back Pay & Compensation
Due to Guild Members

The Ruling

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[48 pages, 3.8 megs]

Trial coverage

Guild members can expect retroactive pay increases, reimbursement for the higher co-payments and premiums they've paid for medical and dental care, and compensation for a lost vacation day, as a result of a judge's ruling on 44 of the unfair-labor-practice charges against the Journal.

Administrative Law Judge William G. Kocol favored the Guild on 28 of the 44 charges.

Those 28 covered all the issues that were of greatest concern to Guild members: The judge reversed the company's changes in health insurance, vacation, parking benefits, and taxi vouchers, and required the company to answer many of the Guild's information requests.

The judge also found that the company violated the law when it rescinded its pay raise offer for 2000 in retaliation for the Guild's work on a reader boycott, and ordered the company to return to its original proposal. In addition, Kocol ruled the Journal engaged in "direct dealing" when it refused to bargain with the Guild over accommodations for Karen Ziner because of a medical condition.

In his rulings against the Guild, Kocol denied certain information requests, supported the company's requiring salespeople to attend out-of-state training, supported the company's requiring janitors to water plants, found that the company could limit Karen Ziner to working in Providence for one month, and found no violations in the company's changes in security.

The most disappointing decisions were rulings that the company did not have to tell the Guild the cash value of each member's pension and that the Guild did not act quickly enough to protest the elimination "small grid" differentials in the newsroom. The Guild did not know about the change in small grid, but the judge said it should have known.

On all the key issues, however, Kocol said the company violated the law by unilaterally imposing working conditions and ordered it to "make employees whole for their losses." The judge also ordered the company to post, within 14 days, a statement listing the violations and pledging to correct them.

The cost to the company could be several million dollars. The Guild estimates that back pay alone could amount to $2.6 million.

When will we be "made whole"? The company has yet to communicate with the Guild about the ruling. It can appeal the decision to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington, a process likely to take about a year. From there it can go to the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court; such court appeals are likely to take less than a year.

Although the company has a pattern of litigating to the max, despite losing every case so far, Guild leaders hope the judge's decision may instead push the company back to the bargaining table for a final resolution of the conflict. After all, the decision arrived on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Here's a closer look at key aspects of Kocol's decision:

Impasse. The company argued that it had the right to impose changes in working conditions because an impasse had been reached in negotiations. It imposed the changes on Jan. 1, 2000, yet said the impasse occurred in February. The judge noted the contradiction and also concluded that "there was no overall impasse when the [Journal] made the changes."

Blue Cross. Kocol ruled that the company could replace its Blue Cross plan, but only with an equivalent plan. The company failed to provide an equivalent plan, and now must do so retroactively. In practical terms, that means that people who were covered by Blue Cross must be reimbursed for any health-care costs they incurred that exceeded what they would have paid had their Blue Cross coverage continued.

United and Delta Dental. The judge ruled that the Journal did not have the right to replace the previous UnitedHealthcare coverage with an inferior plan, nor to replace Delta Dental coverage with MetLife Dental. The company is ordered to retroactively restore those plans and make employees whole for their losses. Again, this means reimbursing us for any extra expenses we incurred because of these inferior plans. For example, the co-pay on doctor's visits went from $5 to $10. Guild members should get back the extra $5 they paid for every doctor's visit.

Cap on premiums. The company was found in violation of the law for removing the cap on premium costs. The contract limits any premium increase to 15 percent of the previous year's premium. But our premiums went up more than that, and now the company is required to pay us back for premium costs that exceeded the cap. The company also imposed a 60-day waiting period before new employees would be eligible for health coverage, a move the judge also found illegal.

"Me, too" and "status quo." Our contract has a "me, too" provision requiring the company to pay Guild members a wage increase if other unionized employees also got a wage increase, and a clause requiring the company to maintain the status quo while an issue is being grieved. The company unilaterally erased these provisions, but the judge ordered them restored retroactively to Jan. 1, 2000. The restoration of the "me, too" clause means providing Guild members with retroactive raises.

Vacation and holiday. The judge said the company did not have the right to change the yardstick for earning three weeks of vacation from three years to five years, nor did it have the right to take away one of our two floating holidays. He ordered the Journal to restore the vacation time in both cases, retroactively, which means people will be paid for those days or offered time off.

Parking. Judge Kocol ordered the company to reinstate the discount parking vouchers that had previously been offered to part-time and newly hired workers, and to compensate those workers for their losses since the company illegally rescinded those programs. He also ruled that the company must answer the Guild's questions about its parking proposal, including how many parking spaces the company has and whether it had plans to sell its lots.

Graduation lists. The company rewrote Doreen Tracey's job description to include preparation of graduation lists, to avoid paying her the "small grid" differential that she used to receive for that work. The judge ruled that this amounted to unilaterally lowering her wages, and ordered the restoration of small grid differentials for graduation lists, and back pay for Tracey.

Taxi vouchers. When the Guild began a job action in which workers used taxis instead of their cars, the company forbade employees to use taxi vouchers outside Providence. The judge ruled that this was a unilateral change in working conditions, which is illegal, and ordered restoration of the old system, in which taxi vouchers could be used anywhere.

Withholding pay. Some employees were given vacation time for which the Journal later discovered they were not eligible. Even though it was the company's mistake, the workers' paychecks were docked. The judge called that illegal and told the company to pay them back.

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