Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG-CWA Local #31041
After organizing tries in the 1960s and ‘70s under the Stoddard family ownership, the Telegram & Gazette responded by giving raises and other perks to its editorial and news staff. However, once the newspaper was sold to the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1980s, people realized quickly that the “old days” were over.
An initial and secret meeting with a Providence Newspaper Guild representative produced an organizing drive among the newsroom staff in Worcester. The prep work went on for weeks. We opened an office nearby, and proceeded to ask each person to sign a union card. Some people at first were reluctant; we respected their views. Many of these people eventually signed, because they began to realize they needed to protect their own interests.
The company brought in the well-known union-busting law firm King & Ballow to fight us. Word around the building was that K&B was being paid $100,000.
The law firm hauled all the supervisors (some of whom were sympathetic to the union and later joined upon returning to the company as part-timers after a 2001 buyout) into mandatory meetings. They didn’t require meetings for reporters and members of the other departments besides News.
K&B put out a series of pamphlets to employees and even sponsored dinners explaining why the company shouldn’t have a union. At one dinner, a long-time reporter, who was being seriously harassed by management, broke down and cried, and said he intended for the first time in his life to sign a union card. The union vote was held in 1993, and we won, but it took a decade before the first contract was signed, in 2003.
In the meantime, the company seemed rather surprised when we started using the handbook as our contract. We began to act like a union. The Guild supported us fully all those years, although none of us had paid a cent in dues.
We were able to lock in some job protections for people. One surprise was that many of the supervisors liked having the union, because they could send a number of their problems over to us to resolve.
While the contract was lacking in many areas, it became valued for its additional protections, including call-in pay and recall from layoffs.
The most successful negotiations during the period following the expiration of the first contract in 2007 produced the belated renewal of terms with a new company owner, The New York Times, effective June 15, 2010.
Some of the issues that helped open the eyes of newer and some older employees were the company’s efforts to gut medical coverage and pull the plug on the pension plan. We were able to stand fast on language requiring the company to provide “substantially equivalent” health coverage when plans change year to year. In exchange for the pension freeze, we secured a 3 percent annual payment into our 401(k) plans, even as the Times began eliminating such plans nationwide.
While holding wage scales steady, the Times agreed to a “signing bonus” of $1,650 for full-timers and $850 for part-timers in the two-year contract. A wage “reopener” negotiation was called for after the first year.
This was also the first contract in which automatic dues deduction from our paychecks was secured. Lack of dues deduction is an attempt to weaken unions by diverting scarce resources to member-by-member collections and also in hopes of prying members away based on narrow, month-to-month perception of self-interest. And mileage rates jumped from a ridiculous 27 cents per mile to 40 cents per mile. This much and more was accomplished even as it was clear to the Times that it could drag out negotiations, with the weight of nonmembers impeding our clout.
However, organizing in support of our efforts built union membership to about 75 percent of bargaining unit employees during this period, a high unmatched since the initial organizing campaign.
All negotiations have been difficult since, with a succession of owners taking advantage of the fact that many employees somehow believed these corporate chiefs had their best interests at heart.
When John Henry acquired the T&G along with the Boston Globe in 2013, one naive employee went so far as to write him a personal fan letter. This was prior to Henry’s statement of intent – later proved false – to hold on to the Worcester property, which he promptly sold to Florida-based Halifax in May 2014. Then, a mere six months later, Halifax was absorbed by New York-based GateHouse Media.
Still, the Unit Council pursued remedies through “impact bargaining” over effects of the various sales on our staff. These included some pay adjustments.
Throughout the past decade of owner turnover and staff cuts, the Unit Council also worked to have members and nonmembers alike take advantage of all rights of representation, to be diligent in having the company observe hard-won terms and to blunt the effects of layoffs whenever possible. This even included a job placement workshop that bargaining unit employees found valuable.
Some came to a realization, too late, that they could not beat corporate owners playing the self-interest game and that collective action undertaken on their behalf had not only helped them, but might have helped them more with earlier involvement in the Guild unit.
As the corporate climate has become more harsh, those who continue to work on behalf of all covered bargaining unit employees — those who pay the freight and those who don’t – do not shy away from advocating as strongly as ever for the best outcomes imaginable.
– Compiled by former Worcester Unit Council chairpersons Kathy Shaw and Bob Datz