Vol XIV, Issue 8 TNG/CWA Local 31041 June 2, 2003
Contract vote set; board urges 'no'
Proposal offers little retroactive pay, minuscule raises;
'Poison pill' prevents it from taking effect on ratification

Key Points

Raises: 0 percent for 2000, 3 percent for 2001, 0 percent for 2002, 6 percent for 2003. This means that the company is paying only 40 percent of the retroactive wages it owes us. Then, in 2004 and 2005, the company will decide how much it wants to raise our pay, but it won't be less than 1.5 percent, and it won't be less than what other union or nonunion employees get.

Health: The same choice of plans that we currently have: United HMO, United, Luminos, CIGNA point of service, plus Merck-Medco prescription. Employees will pay 15 percent of current premium. The company will not reimburse us for the added health-insurance costs it illegally imposed in 2000. Our dental coverage will continue to be Metlife.

Retirement: Current employees go on the Belo pension plan. New employees will get no pension. For 401K, currently employees starting in 2004 will have a choice of the Belo 401K plan or the Star 401K plan. New employees will have to take the Star plan. The difference is that under the Star plan, Belo automatically contributes 2 percent of wages. Under both plans Belo will match employee contributions by 55 percent. The Star plan contains an additional 20 percent match of employee contributions.

Parking: Free parking for 150 employees who currently don't have it. But no reimbursement for those who have been paying to park in the company lots since 2000. No parking for part-timers.

Holidays and vacation: The terms that the company illegally imposed in 2000 will remain in effect, with no back pay. One paid personal day instead of two, and nine paid holidays. The waiting period for a third week of vacation is increased from three to five years.

Union security: Full union shop, and the company will resume collecting dues out of paychecks. Arbitration will remain in effect after the contract expires. For employees owing back dues, employees will have the choice of paying it out of their retro pay, or over time at the rate of $50 a week.

Poison pill: The contract won't go into effect upon ratification. Members won't get the benefits above unless the NLRB agrees to remove the Journal's convictions and the orders against it from the record. It's not known whether the NLRB will do so nor how long it will take to decide.

The Guild and the Journal have agreed to present to Guild members the company's latest contract proposal, a six-year contract that offers no retroactive pay for 2000 and 2002, a 3 percent raise for 2001, 6 percent for 2003, and guaranteed raises of only 1.5 percent in 2004 and 2005.

The proposal also includes a "poison pill" provision -- inserted by the company in the final negotiating sessions -- that prevents the contract from even going into effect upon ratification. The entire contract is now contingent on the National Labor Relations Board expunging the company's convictions on 27 unfair-labor-practices charges.

The Executive Committee voted unanimously today to recommend rejection of this offer. A membership meeting to discuss the contract has been scheduled for noon on June 11 at the Guild office, 270 Westminster St. Secret-ballot voting will start at 12:45 p.m. June 11 at the Guild office and continue until 6:30 p.m.; voting will also take place from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m on June 12. Only members who are up-to-date in all dues payments can attend the meeting and vote.

The contract proposal offers little retroactive pay--only 40 percent of what is owed to us--and allows the company to set wages in 2004 and 2005. The wage offer falls short of what the NLRB ordered by $1.2 million-the exact amount of the bonus recently paid to Belo chairman Robert Decherd. (The Guild also estimates the $1.2 million shortfall to be approximately the Journal's legal costs over the past three years.)

Not everything in the contract proposal is bad. For example, it includes free parking and upgrades for several people in pre-publishing. It has a strong "evergreen" clause that will allow us to continue bringing grievances to arbitration after the contract expires.

But everything has been undermined by the company's last-minute poison pill. The Journal has insisted that the National Labor Relations Board drop all penalties against the company and expunge the record of its convictions before the contract can take effect. That means that the company would walk away scot-free, with no penalty and no record of its wrongdoing.

The bargaining committee objected to making the entire contract contingent on the NLRB's actions. We don't know whether the NLRB will agree to drop the convictions, and we don't know how long it will take to decide. The company was adamant about this provision, however.

So if you were inclined to vote for the contract just to end the conflict, forget it-because even after the vote, it's still not over. Even if members vote to accept the company's offer, we don't know when-or if-we'll see the benefits.

The company will probably tell you that it's sure the NLRB will readily vacate its rulings. Obviously, if the company were truly confident that the NLRB would act in its favor, it wouldn't have felt it necessary to make the contract contingent on that action.

If we're going to have to wait for an NLRB decision anyway, we might as well wait for the one that's likely to result in us getting what the company owes us. The company's appeal of its conviction on 27 unfair-labor-practice charges is currently before the NLRB in Washington. It's highly likely that the board will uphold most of the convictions-under which we would get 3 percent annual raises for 2000, 2001 and 2003--but the litigation could take years.

The Guild leadership at first thought it would be irresponsible to even bring to a vote a contract that is contingent on a third party's action. It's a dangerous precedent. But none of us-least of all the leadership-can tolerate any more secrecy. It's time for members to know all there is to know, and to speak their minds. We urge you to vote "no." As Publisher Howard Sutton said, that will send a message. It's a message the company needs to hear.

Attached (in hard copy; coming soon on this site) is a detailed list of the contract's provisions, compared with other possibilities. The first column shows the company's 2000 proposal. The second column is what we're voting on - the company's current offer. The third column shows the benefits ordered by the NLRB.

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