Bargaining Set for Monday
The Guild and the Journal are scheduled to meet Monday in their first bargaining session since Feb. 26. The two sides have agreed to discuss setting up off-the-record sessions.
Here are some answers to questions about what lies ahead.
What does "off the record" mean?
It means that neither side can reveal the substance of discussions, except by mutual agreement.
The Guild's bargaining team will inform the Executive Committee about what transpires, and the company's bargainers will inform their key executives, but all those people are bound to secrecy.
What's the point of going off the record?
It allows both sides to float ideas informally, knowing they can always withdraw them without penalty.
In on-the-record negotiations, any proposal becomes that party's official position. Labor law does not normally allow either side to retreat from on-the-record positions; they must move forward. For example, if the company were to offer a 2 percent wage increase on the record, its next offer can't be 1 percent; it has to be the same or more.
But proposals made off the record can be retracted as if they were never made. This allows both sides to take chances on differing ideas, and gives them more flexibility in hashing out an agreement.
Can an entire agreement be worked out off the record?
Yes. The two sides could reach agreement off the record, and then put the agreement on the record for official consideration. The Guild Executive Committee would have to approve such a proposal, and then ask members to ratify it.
Can the Guild bargain away the NLRB charges?
They can be resolved at the bargaining table. We could agree to drop accusations of illegal bargaining tactics in exchange for certain contract provisions.
But in the case of specific grievances and specific individuals, we cannot -- and would not -- trade them for contract concessions. Those issues have to be resolved on their merits.
For example, we would not drop our accusation of retaliation against Karen Ziner in exchange for an additional 1 percent raise. But we might drop it if the company at the bargaining table proposes a satisfactory remedy for Ziner's situation.
We would ask the National Labor Relations Board to drop any charges resolved at the bargaining table, and the board, as the prosecuting agency, would decide what to do about the charges.
What does the Guild expect to happen Monday?
The two sides will probably spend this session establishing the terms of engagement -- who will be present and the logistics of how talks will proceed. We will also probably spend time reviewing our current positions -- what has already been agreed on, and what differences remain. It's been a long time since that has been assessed. The company's proposal is scattered across several documents and needs to be considered as a whole.
Sorting out those issues will probably take up the whole session, which begins at 2:30 p.m. In the likely event we go off the record, there will be no details reported in a bargaining bulletin.
What is the status of the September NLRB ruling that requires the company to make us whole for numerous misdeeds?
Today is the deadline for filing "exceptions," or appeals, to the ruling. The NLRB lawyers have filed nine and the Guild has filed some of its own. We expect the company to also file exceptions, but have not yet received a copy of them. A Guild Leader will describe all the exceptions once we have them all in hand.
The exceptions go to the full NLRB in Washington, D.C. This five-member board is due to be reappointed in its entirety in January. The new members will need time to get up to speed. They have numerous cases to consider. We expect it to take years for these appeals to be resolved.
How does the NLRB ruling affect our plans for a boycott?
It doesn't. Not one bit. Not for a second. The purpose of the boycott is to pressure the company into bargaining a contract. The NLRB cannot get us a contract. Even if the company acceded to all the remedies the ruling requires, we still wouldn't have a contract, and getting a contract is what this struggle is all about.
It's worth noting, however, that the judge ruled, repeatedly and emphatically, that planning the boycott was a legal activity.
How does Monday's bargaining session affect our plans for a boycott?
That depends. Again, the purpose of the boycott is to pressure the company to engage in good-faith bargaining that leads to a contract. Although we remain hopeful, right now we don't know whether the company wants to bargain or to stall. But, if talks are progressing, we don't need a boycott and actively pursuing boycott plans would send the wrong message.
Because of space limitations, the Guild Leader could provide only a brief summary of the hours of testimony at the NLRB trial this week concerning work distribution in the features department. Some members have expressed interest in hearing more, so here it is:
The issues in the features department concern the duties of copy editor versus the higher-paid makeup copy editor, and editorial assistant versus the higher-paid departmental assistant.
Features Copy Editors
For many years copy editors and makeup editors performed identical jobs, and copy editors received "small grid" differentials for doing the makeup work. Starting in 2000, the company stopped paying the differentials. The Guild filed a grievance and an arbitrator ruled in early 2002 that the company had to resume paying small grid to copy editors who performed makeup duties more than half their shift.
Ellen Sawyer, a part-time copy editor in features, testified that in March 2002, features editor Phil Kukielski held a meeting with the copy editors to tell them that they could no longer do makeup as a regular part of their jobs. Only section editors and makeup editors would design pages, and copy editors would be paid small grid only when they filled in for a makeup editor who was sick or on vacation.
This change is the subject of the NLRB's charges that the company retaliated against the workers who filed the grievance, and also made a unilateral change in their working conditions.
Under questioning by company lawyer Lincoln D. Almond, Kukielski testified that until 1990, makeup editors designed the pages on paper and sent their instructions to the composing room. With the advent of pagination, the makeup editors started performing the same duties as copy editors.
Among roughly 50 copy editors, only five are now classified as makeup editors, he said.
"The company's position is that makeup editor was an archaic classification that had passed out of use," Kukielski said.
(NLRB lawyer Elizabeth Vorro later asked him: "Have you taken any steps eliminate that classification?"
"No," Kukielski said, "I haven't been asked to.")
After the arbitrator's ruling, Kukielski said, he had a meeting with Pat Welker, managing editor for administration, and Joel Rawson, executive editor, to discuss how to respond to it. He said two possibilities were considered: keeping track of the amount of time copy editors spent doing makeup, or segregating makeup work from copy editing.
The group chose the latter option. A makeup editor was transferred from the newsroom into features to help with the makeup work.
Under cross-examination by company lawyer Richard Perras, copy editor Sawyer acknowledged that doing makeup work was part of her job description and that small grid was paid for work in a higher classification.
"For five years,'' Perras said, "you were accepting payment for work that was in your job classification. ...
"Is it fair to say that in April the company corrected that?"
NLRB lawyer Vorro objected to the question, and the judge sustained her objection.
Later, Vorro asked Kukielski whether the copy editors were doing anything unauthorized when they performed makeup duties. "Were they expected to do it as part of their day-to-day jobs?"
"Yes,'' Kukielski said, "they were expected to do that as part of their job description. Making up pages was one the duties performed copy editors."
"When you participated in the decision to change their job duties," Vorro asked him, "did you make any attempt to bargain with the Guild?"
"I don't think I know," Kukielski said.
"You didn't have any conversations with the Guild?"
Features Departmental Assistants
Cecilia Arnold, an editorial assistant in features since April 2001 and in the newsroom before that, testified that she has never received small grid payments in features, although she is performing the same duties as people who were classified as the higher paid departmental assistants.
Journal lawyer Almond asked her, "Isn't it true that today your job in features consists of creating lists similar to what you did in the news department?"
"Similar to what I did since 1998," Arnold said.
Steven Smith, a departmental assistant, testified that Arnold started doing some of his work on lists while he was on leave, and has continued to do it. He said that of the four departmental assistants, all do similar work, except for Michelle Catanzaro, who he said functions "kind of like a secretary."
Kukielski described Catanzaro as his "principal assistant" who keeps records of such things as time sheets, sick leave, and payments to freelancers.
The other three departmental assistants "principally prepare lists,'' he said.
Under cross-examination, the NLRB's Vorro asked him, "Is it fair to say you're treating editorial assistants and departmental assistants, with the exception of Michelle Catanzaro, as if they were the same?"
"Except for their pay, yes," Kukiekski said.
Kukielski said that after Janet Butler left the department, he looked at ways to streamline its functioning and better distribute her work. He said he brought in additional PCs and changed the way real estate listings were handled so that he ended up shaving about a day of work off what had been Butler's work load.
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495