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Guild contract hangs in the balance

The run-up to voting this week on a proposed contract for members of the Providence Newspaper Guild came, not surprisingly, with a flurry of last-minute developments and sideshows.

In one sign of the tension surrounding the vote, management at the Providence Journal last week proposed offering loans to union members who are behind in their dues, so that they would be able to participate in the contract vote. "However well intentioned the proposal, it has the appearance of vote buying," Guild administrator Tim Schick commented in an article on the union’s online newsletter, www.riguild.org. The article asserted that it is illegal for an employer to advance or loan money for back dues.

In another article on the Guild’s Web site, ProJo reporter Karen Lee Ziner, who was assigned to the night police shift in 2001, in what a National Labor Relations Board judge has described as a punitive and illegal move (see "NLRB judge scorns editor’s credibility in Ziner case," This just in, April 17), argues in favor of a no vote.

Although Ziner indicated she was still open to arguments, she cited management’s conditioning the contract on the NLRB expunging the company’s 27 convictions on unfair labor practice charges (the ProJo has appealed the convictions) and described the contract offer as too parsimonious. "But my major point here has to do with ethical issues," she wrote. "As a newspaper, we insist on holding the outside world to the highest ethical standards. If Buddy [Cianci] cheated and stole, we want him in the slammer . . . If the governor won’t let us see public records, then we’ll see him in court. But when the judge tells the Providence Journal Co. to pay up and ’fess up, the Providence Journal Co. thinks it’s above the law."

Observers were hard-pressed to predict the outcome of voting, scheduled for Wednesday, June 11 and Thursday, June 12, on management’s contract offer. Guild loyalists describe the contract, which includes 40 percent of retroactive pay, as a bad deal. But the Guild’s 450 or so members have been working without a contract — and raises — since early 2000. "Some people just want it [the standoff] over, like a bad marriage," says one reporter.

In another sign of the tension surrounding the vote, high-ranking managers "rarely seen among us have descended to aggressively push for a ‘yes’ vote in numerous informal meetings with workers," according to another article on the union Web site. "Guild leaders have been excluded from those meetings so they’re not on hand to correct misstatements or pose counterarguments." (ProJo publisher Howard Sutton and other top managers have consistently declined to comment to the Phoenix on the Guild dispute.)

Meanwhile, as the Journal gears up for a computer-assisted analysis of the disastrous fire at the Station nightclub in West Warwick on February 20, which killed 100 people and injured nearly 200, the Boston Globe came out of leftfield to again score a big hit on the Journal’s home turf. The Globe’s two-part series on the deadly decisions behind the fire, published June 8 and 9, offered the most complete, concise, and incisive overview of the disaster yet published.

To its credit, though, the ProJo, devoted more than three pages to Kate Bramson’s powerful June 8 narrative account of the hardships faced by a 15-year-old Burrillville girl and her family after she reported being raped by a popular 17-year-old senior. While out-of-town papers might sometimes do better with a mega-crisis like the Station disaster, Bramson’s story suggests the Journal’s ability to mine stories that might otherwise go overlooked.


Issue Date: June 13 - 19, 2003
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