Vol XIV, Issue 23 TNG/CWA Local 31041 Oct. 17, 2003
Guild questions new restrictions on outside work
Policy on speaking, freelancing goes beyond contract terms;
members urged to inform Guild about how it is applied

The Journal has sent to about 60 employees a new "Policy on Public Appearances" that restricts out-of-work activities in ways that go beyond what the Guild contract requires. Despite its name, the policy applies to much more than public appearances, setting limits on all outside activities.

Although the policy repeatedly refers to the Guild contract, its contents don't reflect what the contract actually states.

The Guild has notified the company that the policy may conflict with the contract, but that the Guild will not take action regarding it "until such time as an employee is disadvantaged by it."

Meanwhile, Guild members should know what the contract truly requires and how that differs from the company's stated policy. Any member whose outside activities have been questioned or restricted by the company should contact the Guild immediately by calling 421-9466.

This is important because the company's policy could reach deeply into the private lives of employees.

Here's what the contract states:

• The company has the right "to question the propriety of any present or proposed outside activities or services" of employees.

• On their own time, employees can contribute their services to "non-competing" newspapers and publications, "or radio-TV interests outside of the New England area." Such work cannot infringe upon the publisher's "legitimate business interests" nor exploit the employee's connection with the publisher without specific permission.

• Employees may engage in any other activity outside of working hours, as long as those activities do not infringe upon the publisher's "legitimate business interests" and do not compromise the publisher's or the employee's reputation, "it being understood that the employee will not undertake such other activity without notification to the publisher."

"Much of this language is subject to interpretation," said Guild Administrator Tim Schick. "When there's a disagreement, arbitrators and judges consider past practices - what the company has allowed in the past without raising any objections. Established practices carry a lot of weight in interpreting contract language."

Here are excerpts from the new company policy and an explanation of how it goes beyond the contract:

• "Each news department employee [must] obtain approval of the Promotion Department (on behalf of the publisher) before undertaking any public appearance in New England as a representative of The Providence Journal Co." The contract does not specifically address speaking engagements and other public appearances, in New England or elsewhere. The contract also does not require the publisher's approval-merely that he be notified.

• "Employees [must] obtain the approval of the Publisher before writing or submitting for publication to any medium in New England any written work, photograph or art." The contract merely bans work for competing publications and newspapers. It doesn't put all media and all of New England off limits. It would be hard to argue that, say, The Biddeford (Maine) Times is a competing newspaper.

• "Each employee [must] obtain the approval of the Publisher before participating in activities outside of newspaper-related duties which might be deemed to conflict with his or her journalistic obligations, which might raise ethical challenges, or which might become subject to journalistic scrutiny." This goes way beyond the contract's provisions. A Guild rally, for example, might become "subject to journalistic scrutiny" and there's no way the Publisher could ban it. The contract does not address "ethical challenges."

The Guild recognizes that the Journal has legitimate concerns about the integrity, ethics and reputation of its employees, especially when they are acting as representatives of the company - such as when an employee is invited to give a speech specifically because he or she works for the Journal. And there are clearly outside activities - for example, a State House reporter campaigning for a political candidate - that would be inappropriate and unethical for a reporter to engage in.

But other situations are ambiguous. The contract is written to accommodate the ambiguities in a changing journalistic marketplace, providing a forum for working out disagreements. The Journal's new policy seeks to expand the company's control over employees' outside activities beyond what the contract allows.

Because the Guild recognizes the company's legitimate interests, and because ambiguities abound, the Guild will act against the policy only when an employee reports being disadvantaged by it. Discussions could thus focus on a specific case, rather than hypothetical situations.

"What matters most," said Schick, "is how this policy is applied."

That's why it's essential for employees to keep the Guild up to date on whether and how the company enforces its new policy.

Copyright © 2003 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495