Vol XIV, Issue 22 TNG/CWA Local 31041 Oct. 10, 2003
Dues Settlement Reached
Payroll deduction to resume
Employees must pay what they owe
Payment plans set up for back dues
Dues payments a condition of employment

Settlement agreement

The Journal will resume collecting dues through payroll deduction on Oct. 24, as part of an agreement that Guild leaders consider a major breakthrough in the nearly four-year-old contract dispute.

The company will also start collecting back dues out of the paychecks of Guild members who have fallen behind in their payments. Members owing less than $200 must pay off their balance immediately. For balances of $200 or more, the back payments will be made at the rate of $50 a week. Members who make less than $700 per week and who also owe over $200 will have the option of paying off their balance over 12 months, or by doubling their weekly dues payments, whichever pays off the outstanding balance quicker.

But everyone must pay up to continue working at the Journal. And members may not participate in Guild meetings nor vote in Guild elections until they have paid off their entire debt.

Members who do not sign the form allowing the company to deduct their union dues from their paychecks must arrange with the Guild to pay on their own. The company has agreed to fire anyone who falls more than $200 behind in their payments, as soon as the Guild requests it.

Under the agreement, the Guild wins the resumption of dues collection - something the company was not obliged to do. In exchange, the company is relieved of its obligation (imposed by an arbitrator) to pay the Guild for the back dues owed by members who failed to pay between February 2000 and August 2002.

In February 2000, when the Guild's last contract expired, the company stopped collecting dues from members' paychecks, a process known as dues checkoff, ending a decades-long practice. The company also wrote to Guild members telling them - falsely - that they were not obliged to pay dues.

The Guild filed a grievance over these actions, which eventually went to arbitration. The arbitrator, Roberta Golick, ruled in July 2002 that the Journal did not have to continue dues checkoff after the contract expired.

But Golick said paying Guild dues was still a condition of employment at the Journal for anyone holding a bargaining-unit job. She ruled that the contract clause requiring this remained in effect after the contract expired, and that the company was thus incorrect when it told employees they didn't have to pay dues.

Golick also ordered the company to pay the Guild for the back dues that members had failed to pay between February 2000 and August 2002. At the time, the amount owed was $210,000.

The company never paid. Instead, it appealed the arbitrator's decision to federal district court. Meanwhile, the company informed Guild members that they had to pay dues as a condition of employment, but despite the Guild's requests, failed to enforce that obligation.

In September 2003, Judge Mary Lisi upheld the arbitrator's decision. She did not, however, address the issue of how to enforce it. Instead, she urged the Guild and the Journal to work it out together. As a result, discussions were held that led to the agreement.

"We were worried the company would appeal Judge Lisi's decision, given the Journal's lawsuit-happy history," said Guild President John Hill. "So we were pleasantly surprised when the Journal instead agreed to negotiate a resolution. The company's willingness to talk on this issue is a good sign."

The dues issue has been controversial among members from the beginning. Those who faithfully continued to pay resented the idea that those who didn't pay might get off scott-free. Others would rather have seen the company pay the bill, since it had misled employees about their obligations. This agreement frees the company from making that payment, while requiring Guild members who continue to work here to pay the dues they owe.

Guild leaders regard the agreement as a healthy compromise.

The Guild wins:

  • · Resumption of dues checkoff, which assures a steady income for the union and a convenience for members.
  • · An ironclad promise from the company to enforce members' obligation to pay dues.
  • · An improvement in Guild-company relations that may smooth the way for contract negotiations.

The Guild loses:

  • · Any back dues owed by people who have left the company, estimated at $59,000
  • · Any back dues owed by people who leave the company in the future, before they finish paying up.

In the end the Guild expects to collect 95 percent of the money owed from February 2000 through October 2003. To date, the Guild has collected 81 percent of the dues owed.

Of the Guild's 406 members, 106 owe more than $200. The total debt in back dues to the Guild now equals $152,000. This is less than the $210,000 owed in August 2002 because some people have already paid off their back balance.

Some of those who owe back dues are hostile to the union. But many - perhaps most - simply failed to pay what they owe, because no one was requiring them to. Now they will have pay the debt - but gradually, and without any interest.

"We appreciate this will be a hardship for some members," said Guild President Hill. "We have tried to lessen the impact with the two-tiered repayment system. But the difficult truth of the situation is that it has got to be paid. For the last three years most of our members have been helping to carry on this fight by paying their fair share. This settlement restores some fairness for them and more properly puts the burden for the effort on all of those who will in the end benefit from a new contract."

Copyright © 2002 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
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