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A sudden halt to contract hopes

Four months of off-the-record contract talks between the Providence Newspaper Guild and management at the Providence Journal recently came to an abrupt halt, sparking renewed complaints by Guild members that Belo-backed managers at the ProJo are intent on breaking the union.

The informal talks started on the Guildís invitation last October, shortly after a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that the Journal Company took part in a series on unfair labor practices against the union (management is appealing the decision). But after the most recent in a series of 12 off-the-record sessions was held February 25, the company has declined to meet again or indicate whether it will be willing to return to the bargaining table, says Guild administrator Tim Schick. “For whatever reason, the company wonít meet with us right now,” Schick says. “Thatís the biggest problem.”

Mark T. Ryan, the Journalís executive vice president and general manager, didnít return a call seeking comment.

Guild members have been working without a contract since their last one expired in early 2000, triggering no small amount of disgruntlement at the Journal, as well as complaints that the Dallas-based Belo Corporation, which bought the Journal Company in 1997, was trying to dismantle the union. The recent breakdown in contract talks leads Schick to believe, he says, “that not only do they not intend to bargain with us in good faith, theyíre continuing their efforts to break the union.”

Management has also not responded, Schick says, to the Guildís March 25 request to allow the disclosure of the companyís latest contract officer, so that union members could vote on it and offer feedback to negotiators. “For whatever reason, the company is not willing to let us show the members what is there and what is not,” he says. “We think that speaks volumes in and of itself.”

The contract stalemate threatens to further strain relations on Fountain Street, and the Guild is again prominently featuring on its Web site, www.riguild.org, information about a possible boycott of the ProJo.

Belo and Journal managers have denied that their intention is to break the Guild, which mounted a 1973 strike against the newspaper. But newsroom veterans say the Journal has always been fiercely anti-union and particularly anti-Guild, even though reaching a contract was a relative snap in the pre-Belo era.

Issue Date: April 10 - 17, 2003
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