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Guild vote repudiates management's heavy hand

Even some Providence Newspaper Guild diehards seemed to half-expect an affirmative vote for managementís first contract offer since 2000 ó a seemingly reasonable outlook since union members have gone without a raise for more than three years. But after ProJo managers launched aggressive efforts to squeeze out an agreement, last weekís vote against the contract ó on a 160-109 vote ó shows that Guild members arenít quite ready to give up the fight.

ProJo publisher Howard Sutton, who didnít return a call seeking comment, put down the management line in a June 13 business story that didnít carry a byline: "The vote is a missed opportunity for our employees and clearly no mandate for the union leadership. A majority of our employees in the Guild bargaining units either voted yes or were deemed unable to vote by the union."

The Guild, however, which had faulted management for trying to tilt the tally with a loan program to help employees pay the outstanding dues necessary to vote, noted how more than $25,000 in back dues was collected prior to the election and only 12 eligible voters failed to take part. "Itís ironic that the company, which for three years campaigned to get people to quit the union and to not pay their union dues, is now crying in their beer over the consequences of their previous campaigns," says Guild administrator Tim Schick.

Schick says ProJo employees were being called into their "managersí offices on a daily basis, and being given the hard sell on the contract." Combined with an offer that included less than half of the retroactive pay ordered by the National Labor Relations Board, and an element that conditioned the pact on the NLRB expunging managementís 27 convictions on unfair labor practice charges, "That really turned people off," Schick says.

The Journalís June 13 story prominently featured the more favorable elements of the contract offer, including a nine percent pay raise, effective January 1, 2003; a lump-sum six percent retroactive payment; an 85 percent-company paid medical and dental benefit; life insurance equal to two times annual salary; and medical, dental and vision coverage to domestic partners.

Schick believes an agreement can be reached with "a few changes" in managementís offer. New talks have not yet been scheduled.

The Guild, which represents about 400 reporters and other employees at the Journal, has been working without a contract since early 2000. Some union members blame a perceived anti-union animus at the Dallas-based Belo Corporation, which bought the ProJo in 1997, but Belo and Journal officials have denied this. Nonetheless, Schick says, "After three years of what theyíve been through, a number of people have a serious distrust of management and there was such tremendous hard sell," with every Guild member being spoken to several times. "People were saying, ĎWhatís it in for the company that we canít see?í "


Issue Date: June 20 - 26, 2003
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