Guild challenges Belo on law breaking
At annual meeting, Kohring reminds Decherd of ethics rule
Journal appeals ruling-again Latest NLRB case now goes to Washington
Speaking at the Belo Corp.'s annual meeting in Dallas yesterday, Guild Executive Committee member Kerry Kohring told Belo chairman Robert Decherd that Journal executives had violated the company's own ethics code when they broke federal labor laws in their dealings with the Guild.
Kohring called on Decherd to describe what action he plans to take in response, but Decherd did not reply to that question.
The newly issued code explicitly requires directors, officers and employees to obey the law, under penalty of firing. The Journal has been convicted of 27 violations of the National Labor Relations Act.
In breaking the law, Kohring told Decherd and other Belo stockholders, Journal executives "are therefore also in violation of the Belo Corporation's Code of Business Conduct and Ethics and subject to its stated disciplinary action, including possible 'termination of employment or other relationship with Belo' and/or 'removal as a director or officer.'
"Will you please detail for us what actions you and the Management Committee will take to enforce the Belo code of conduct in this case?"
Kohring noted that the Journal's failure to comply with the company's code of conduct endangers Belo's integrity and the value of its stock.
In a phone interview afterward, Kohring said that Decherd did not address his question. Instead, Decherd said that he regrets that the Guild and the company have not reached a contract agreement but that the annual meeting is not the appropriate place to discuss labor relations.
Decherd pointed out that Belo has contracts with the Teamsters and the Pressmen at the Journal and with other unions at other companies. He acknowledged the National Labor Relations Board charges, but stressed that some had been dismissed. Decherd also implied that the Guild was using unfair-labor-practice charges as a substitute for bargaining.
(In reality, the Guild has spent more than three years seeking a negotiated settlement. After careful review of Guild complaints, the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency, brought charges against the Journal for numerous violations of labor law -- some quite blatant -- in its dealings with the Guild. The board won convictions on virtually all the most important issues.)
This was Kohring's third trip to Dallas to address stockholders at the Belo annual meeting and to implore Decherd to end the Journal's self-destructive war on its employees.
Before the meeting, Kohring ran into Journal publisher Howard G. Sutton. Sutton said that he, too, would like a contract settlement. He said he wanted the company's latest offer to come before the members for a vote to "let democracy take its course."
"If it's defeated," Sutton told Kohring, "that will send a message."
The Journal has appealed the April 11 ruling that it was guilty of five violations of the National Labor Relations Act, continuing its pattern of losing legal battles and quickly appealing.
Although convicted of only five charges, the Journal filed 35 appeals, objecting to just about every aspect of the convictions except, perhaps, the color of the paper they were printed on.
The Guild also filed an appeal, objecting to the judge's decision on three charges related to the company's "contract offer" made on the eve of the February 2002 unfair-labor-practices trial.
The appeals go to the full NLRB in Washington, D.C. The board already has before it - but has not acted on - the company's appeals of 22 other unfair-labor-practice convictions. Those 22 guilty findings were issued in September and focus on the unilateral changes in benefits that the company imposed on workers when the last contract expired.
In his April ruling, Administrative Law Judge William G. Kocol ruled that the company illegally transferred reporter Karen Ziner to an entry-level nighttime assignment covering police, in retaliation for protected activity. Kocol ordered Ziner reinstated to the day shift.
Ziner was the subject of a petition objecting to the company's decision to remove her from a story because someone featured in the story didn't like it, even though the story was accurate. The petition was written and circulated by Morgan McVicar, who was then assigned the night job and immediately quit rather than take the demotion. Then Ziner was forced into that position.
The Journal's appeal "emphatically denies any retaliatory motive whatsoever." If the company were retaliating against Ziner, the appeal argues, editors would have assigned her to the night job first, instead of first assigning McVicar. The Journal also says that the judge "did not find that Ms. Ziner herself engaged in any protected activity.'' Rather, it said, she "was the subject of the protected concerted activity."
The judge also found that the Journal unlawfully stopped giving make-up tasks to features department copy editors, depriving them of "small grid" earnings. The company changed the copy editors' duties after an arbitrator required it to pay copy editors a little extra when they spend more than half their shift designing pages, known as make-up work. Now all the make-up work goes to people already classified as higher-paid make-up editors, so the company avoids paying the differential.
The Journal's appeal asserts that the copy editors have no contractual right to those make-up duties and that "it would have been unreasonable and irrational for the Journal to respond to the arbitrator's award in any other way."
The Journal was found guilty of labor-law violations because in February of 2002 it communicated a contract proposal directly to Guild members before union negotiators had a chance to review it. The Journal's appeal cites a court ruling saying it's permissible for a company to simultaneously communicate bargaining offers to employees and the union leadership.
The April ruling also found two labor-law violations in the Journal's failure to provide the Guild with information related to discrepancies in 401k payments and employee personnel data used in enforcing the contract. The Journal's appeal disputes that the Guild needed this information to represent its members.
The Guild's appeal pertains to the February 2002 letters in which the company gave the Guild a one-page, take-or-leave-it contract offer that required us to withdraw all the NLRB charges, and then rebuffed our request to bargain over it. Although the judge found otherwise, the Guild believes the company acted illegally when it refused to bargain, engaged in regressive bargaining, and pre-conditioned bargaining on withdrawal of NLRB charges. The appeal was filed as a matter of principle. If successful, the only result would be to alert the company that such behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated in the future.
The Guild filed the appeal knowing that the company was going to appeal, so that our objection will not cause any delay that wouldn't have happened anyway.
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495