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Guild defers boycott vote until after buyout


Although the Providence Newspaper Guild mustered an impressive turnout of some 200 unionists for an October 20 protest outside the offices of the Providence Journal, the union has sheathed its most potent weapon -- a possible boycott of the ProJo -- until after the dust clears from the implementation of an impending buyout.

A secret vote scheduled for this week would have enabled 500 Guild members to authorize the union's executive board to proceed, at a time of the board's choosing, with the controversial boycott. But the 11-member board unanimously decided on October 16 to scrap the vote because of Journal management's recently unveiled offer of buyouts to 79 Guild members and 87 employees in non-Guild areas (see "Bad to worse on Fountain Street," This just in, October 12). "There was some sense that the old union would be calling shots for the new union -- a typical lame duck situation," says reporter and executive board member Brian C. Jones. "It would be even more problematic if the boycott was passed by a slim margin."

The development comes as the Guild and Belo-backed management at the Journal prepare to meet in mid-November for their first negotiating session since February 14. But union activists, who accuse management of trying to break their union in the time since the Guild's last contract expired at the end of January 2000, aren't getting their hopes up. "We don't know whether they actually intend to do any negotiating or whether they'll just sit there and posture some more," says Guild administrator Tim Schick. Mark T. Ryan, the Journal's senior vice president for legal and administration, didn't return a call seeking comment.

The buyouts, recently approved by the Guild, are open to full-time workers who are 55 and over, and offer an incentive of one month's pay for each year worked, to a maximum of 18 months. With a departure deadline of November 30, the impact of the buyout is yet to be determined, but insiders believe that the Journal's suburban bureaus may pose an inviting target for cost-cutters. "The real worrisome thing isn't the changing of the guard here," says Jones, a 35-year veteran, who's inclined to take the buyout, "but the direction of the newspaper."

Meanwhile, the October 20 protest outside the Journal building provided a chance for frustrated Guild members, who were joined by US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy and representatives of other unions, to vent their spleen. The Journal, which has manifested a growing aversion to self-scrutiny since being acquired by Belo in 1997, deigned to cover the rally with a brief tucked inside the next day's local news section.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]

Issue Date: October 26 - November 1, 2001