Sutton has positive words;
Decherd denies Belo role
The Guild and the company have had seven bargaining sessions since the company agreed to resume negotiations this fall. Two are scheduled for January.
The talks are off the record, and thus their contents cannot be revealed. Both sides have agreed to discuss the progress of talks only with their top leaders.
Publisher Howard G. Sutton had positive words for the process at a company-wide meeting held to greet Belo CEO Robert Decherd on Wednesday. As part of his description of a "good year" for the Journal, Sutton mentioned the renewed talks with "our friends in the Newspaper Guild."
"I'm optimistic that we will come to a successful conclusion sometime next year," Sutton told the gathering.
Told of Sutton's comment, Guild administrator Tim Schick said: "Based on what has happened so far, we agree with that assessment."
At his meeting with employees Wednesday, Decherd faced two questions about union relations. One union member asked whether anti-union attitudes in Texas played a role in the conflict here.
"Stereotyping is a dangerous thing," Decherd said. "What does this company stand for? Integrity. Journalism. Fairness. Good relations with our communities." He asserted that "there is not a single instance" in which Belo has worked to eliminate a union.
"Not once has there been a conversation in our board room about taking on a union," he said.
"We want to get together. I've wanted to do that for three years."
Later, another Guild member told Decherd that the labor conflict "has been devastating to morale in the newsroom." He asked Decherd how he reconciled his statements that he values employees with the company's decision to take back benefits while denying us raises for three years.
Decherd replied that Journal-Guild relations are the responsibility of the Providence managers.
"My role and the role of the [Belo] management committee is to hire outstanding people to run the company,'' he said. He acknowledged that the conflict has caused "a very tense and very unsatisfactory situation" but said: "It is Howard Sutton's call and his team's call as to how to create the right environment.
There is not a Belo strategy for Providence.
It is Howard Sutton's job to figure this one out."
Decherd also denied that he planned to sell the Journal. "The Providence Journal is not for sale, period," he said, echoing the words of former publisher Stephen Hamblett shortly before he sold the paper. He said that the Belo Corp. is not for sale either.
This February marks the 30th performance of the Guild's annual Follies, a long and semi-glorious tradition for our union. Perhaps recognizing this milestone, the politicians of the state appear to have gone out of their way to provide us with material.
One of the less fortunate developments in the Follies lately has been the declining level of Guild participation. Even under the most generous criteria -- spouses of Guild members, former Guild members -- probably fewer than half the people on stage are associated with the union.
I'd like to urge everybody consider being part of the show this year, mainly because it's a tremendous amount of fun. If you've never been in it before, you'll see what I mean. If you're a veteran performer, this is the perfect opportunity to get back in the Venus spotlight.
Let me briefly address a few objections I've heard.
1. The Follies is a closed clique and I wouldn't be welcome. This is ridiculous. If it ever was true, it certainly isn't now.
2. I don't have any talent. Anyone who has ever seen the show knows that talent is not a
requirement. (Although if you do have talent, for God's sake give us a call.)
3. It takes too much time. True, there is a commitment involved. But it's the middle of the winter. What else could be so darn important?
So give a call to producer Babette Augustin or directors Andy Smith and Steve Smith at the Journal. Or just show up at the People's Baptist Church, corner of Park and Elmwood in Cranston on Saturday, Jan. 4, at 1 p.m.
--Andy Smith, Follies co-director
to collect dues
The Guild last week mailed letters to approximately 85 bargaining-unit employees reminding them that paying union dues is a condition of employment at the Journal.
The letter's recipients were people who had not paid any dues since August, when an arbitrator ruled that the dues were mandatory and the company notified employees that they had to pay.
The employees were told that they could lose their jobs if they don't pay what they owe since August. The Guild intends to enforce the "union security clause" that requires dues payment.
It's not clear what will happen with money owed from before August. The arbitrator ordered the company to reimburse the Guild for back dues, but did not address the question of whether the company can then collect that money from employees. That will be resolved in negotiations.