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NLRB judge rules in Guild's favor


A National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge has ruled that the Providence Journal Company took part in a series of unfair labor practices against the Providence Newspaper Guild. Judge William G. Kocol, who considered the case during a Pawtucket City Hall hearing in February and March, ordered the company to stop violating the law and restore pay and benefits for Guild employees at the Providence Journal.

Word of the September 12 decision, which represents an important symbolic victory for the Guild in its extended conflict with Belo Corporation-backed managers at the ProJo, was greeted with a burst of applause in the newsroom, says Guild administrator Tim Schick. "It's just tremendously significant," he says. "We haven't sit down with a calculator to decide what is owed, but it's hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's also a vindication for us in that we have a ruling from an independent source who took evidence and tried the facts, and determined, indeed, that the Journal violated the law in its dealings with us during bargaining."

Journal publisher Howard G. Sutton didn't return a call seeking comment. Joel P. Rawson, the paper's executive editor, declined comment through an assistant.

Kocol's 44-page ruling, which can be examined on the on the Guild's Web site,, backs the union's allegations -- first made in 44 charges -- that the company imposed unilateral changes in working conditions and benefits, and bargained in bad faith or refused to bargain. The judge ordered the company to remedy the situation by, among other things, giving Guild employees the same raises received by nonunion workers, retroactive to January 1, 2000; restoring the vacation policy as it existed before January 1, 2000; and replacing or restoring diminished health and dental benefits, retroactive to the same time period.

Management-union relations became bitter with the expiration of the Guild's most recent contract in early 2000, leading the union, which represents almost 500 reporters, advertising workers, and other employees, to believe that Belo-backed managers are intent on destroying the Guild. Dallas-based Belo bought the Journal in 1997, and internal critics believe the newspaper's journalistic tradition has also been harmed since then. Sutton and other managers at the Journal Company, who defend the paper's quality, have denied having an anti-union motivation.

The Guild has pursued 22 additional unfair labor practice charges against the Journal. The allegations are scheduled to be aired during a NLRB hearing starting October 21.

Although the NLRB ruling offers a boost for Guild members, it may not have any meaningful effect in ending the dispute between the union and ProJo management. Journal lawyer Richard A. Perras told the Associated Press, "The most important thing to the Journal is that ultimately all of these matters will have to be resolved at the bargaining table." The two sides haven't had a full bargaining session, however, since November 2001, and although Kocol directed them to meet outside of the winter trial, "the company refused to meet with us," Schick says. He expects management to challenge the judge's ruling, which can be appealed to a full NLRB board and then a federal appeals court.

On Monday, September 16, Schick held out hope that the Journal, which has essentially ignored the Guild-management conflict, would cover the NLRB decision. "I would like to think they will see the news value in it," he said. "They acted not to cover the trial, but this is an official decision of the United States government. I would think it would be newsworthy, since they are one of the largest employers in the state."

Two days later, the ProJo used an AP story, on the bottom of the business section, to share word of the NLRB ruling with its readers.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]

Issue Date: September 20 - 26, 2002