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GUILD LEADER

Vol XIII, Issue 28 TNG/CWA Local 31041 Oct. 23, 2002

Reporter Ziner takes the stand
Tells of award-winning career and transfer to 'night cops'
Guild and management witnesses testify on trial's 2nd day

PROVIDENCE -- Karen Ziner yesterday described how she was transferred from a position as general-assignment reporter -- once sent to cover such stories as the Mike Tyson rape trial and President Clinton's visits to Martha's Vineyard -- to the "night cops" job in which she answers the phone, chases late-breaking crime stories, and rewrites press releases on deer mating.

Ziner's 50 minutes of testimony came on the second day of the Journal's trial on 20 unfair-labor-practice charges. The National Labor Relations Board contends that the Ziner was demoted in retaliation for organized activity -- a petition on her behalf.

Also yesterday, Babette Augustin, a picture editor and Guild member, and Carol Young, deputy executive editor, gave differing accounts of an incident in which Young became angry because Augustin took a new intern to a Guild leafleting effort.

In a busy day of testimony yesterday, Administrative Law Judge William G. Kocol also heard from Guild members Ellen Sawyer, Ceci Arnold, and Steven Smith, from former Guild member Morgan McVicar, and from management witnesses Phil Kukielski and Tom Heslin. The trial will resume at 9 a.m. today in the Garrahy Judicial Complex and will probably end this afternoon.

Ziner testified about her 22-year career that earned her awards from UPI, the Epilepsy Foundation, the New England Associated Press News Executives Association and the Overseas Press Club and that included coverage of the TWA flight 800 crash from aboard a Coast Guard ship, dispatches from Southeast Asia, and coverage of the immigrant and refugee communities.

She then described the incident that the NLRB contends led to her demotion. While Ziner was out of the country, the subject of a domestic-violence story complained repeatedly about her coverage to several Journal executives. When she returned, she was told that she was being removed from the story, even though the Journal found nothing wrong with her coverage. She objected to the decision, and colleagues signed a petition protesting it. An article about Ziner's removal from the story appeared in the New York Times.

Soon, Ziner testified, she found that few good assignments came her way.

Under questioning by NLRB lawyer Joseph Griffin, Ziner briefly broke down in tears when asked about a meeting that occurred shortly after Morgan McVicar quit because he had been assigned to night cops. Ziner testified that Metro Managing Editor Tom Heslin called her on the phone, from his desk to her desk, asking her to come to his office. When she came with Brian Jones as her union representative, however, he refused to talk with her.

Later that week, Ziner learned that she had been transferred to nights by reading the weekly schedule posted in the newsroom, which said she would work Tuesday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight. "Did anyone tell you this was going to happen?" Griffin asked her.

"I was told to check the schedule," Ziner said.

"Did anyone tell you?"

"No."

"Did anyone tell you why?"

"No."

Ziner testified that the night cops job had become a stepping stone for state-staff reporters looking to move onto the city staff. She said she was the first person in her 22 years at the Journal who had been transferred to nights after already achieving a place on the day city staff.

Morgan McVicar, a former reporter, testified that he wrote and circulated the petition protesting Ziner's removal from the domestic-violence story. Shortly afterwards, he said, Heslin told him he was being transferred to the night beat, which McVicar described as "the worst thing that could be done to any reporter." He described the beat as "something that had to be covered but nobody wanted to cover," which had become "a path downtown" for state-staff reporters.

The Journal's lawyers declined to cross-examine Ziner and McVicar.

Later, company lawyer Lincoln D. Almond asked Phil Kukielski, who was in charge of the state staff at the time of Ziner's transfer, whether there had been discussion about transferring a state staff reporter to fill the night cops job. Kukielski said he could not recall any such conversation.

In testimony late in the day, Heslin, the Journal's metro managing editor, said he was not aware that McVicar had circulated the petition about Ziner when he decided to reassign him to nights. Asked why he chose McVicar for the job, Heslin said: "It's an important position at the paper. From the pool of people I had, he had the skills to do it well."

After McVicar resigned, Heslin said, he chose Ziner for night cops because "she had the skills and background to do the kind of deadline reporting that the job required." Under questioning by Journal lawyer Richard Perras, Heslin denied knowing that Ziner had testified at a previous NLRB hearing and denied that the decision to transfer her had anything to do with the domestic-violence story.

On another charge, the NLRB alleges that Carol Young made a threat that workers will lose career opportunities if they participate in union activities.

The comment came after Augustin mentioned to Young that she had taken an intern to help distribute Guild leaflets at a Brown University event. Upon hearing this, Augustin testified, "She became agitated. …'Thank you for telling him what a terrible place to work the Journal is.' I said I didn't tell him that." Then, according to Augustin, Young said in a raised voice, "Thanks for ruining his career."

But Young testified that she said something else: "I flared. I either said I was outraged or disgusted that she took him to an event where he was being told that the company he worked for stunk. I thought it was ruining the glamour of his job."

"Did you ever say that she had ruined his career?'' Almond asked Young.

"Ruined his career? No." Young replied.

Later, the judge asked Young to tell the story again. She described her comment as: "How could you ruin somebody's first job, the excitement of his first job?"

Hours of testimony yesterday focused on the distribution of work in the features department. Copy editor Ellen Sawyer and her boss, Kukielski, managing editor for features, both testified about the company's decision to change copy editor's duties so they would no longer regularly work in a higher classification. Both said the decision came after an arbitrator's ruling that the company must resume its longstanding practice of paying copy editors a differential when they worked in the higher classification of makeup editor. Kukielski testified that "makeup editor" was an obsolete classification, but that the company had never attempted to eliminate it.

Cecilia Arnold, an editorial assistant, and Steven Smith, a departmental assistant, testified about the distribution of work among the support staff. The NLRB contends that Arnold should be paid a differential for working as a departmental assistant. Under questioning by Almond, Arnold acknowledged that after 1998, the work she did as an editorial assistant in the newsroom was similar to the work she now does in features. Under questioning by the NLRB lawyer Elizabeth Vorro, Kukielski said that of the four people classified as departmental assistants in features, only one actually performed the duties that go along with that title.

The day started with Perras cross-examining Guild Administrator Tim Schick about the company's Feb. 20 contract offer and a bargaining session that was held on Feb. 26, amid the previous NLRB trial. Perras sought to show that the company made a good-faith effort to resolve the conflict through negotiations, but Schick testified that there was no meaningful exchange and that the company only reluctantly agreed to bargain under pressure from the judge.

After the Guild made an off-the-record contract offer at the Feb. 26 meeting, Perras said, "There were discussions back and forth.''

Schick disagreed: "There was a response, which was 'Go stick it.' "


Copyright © 2002 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
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