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The Guild goes on a media offensive

Given the general paucity of media coverage about the long-running dispute between the Providence Newspaper Guild and management at the Providence Journal, it comes as something of a shock to hear a commercial on talk-news station WHJJ-AM describing the situation. Then again, this is exactly why the Guild, backed by a five-figure advertising buy by its parent, the Washington, DC-based Communications Workers of America (CWA), is trying a new tack to put pressure on the company.

The text of the commercial, also being broadcast on WSNE-FM, WHJY-FM, and WCTK-FM, reads in part, "You know, most newspapers cover wrongdoing in high places. But the Providence Journal is actually involved in its own scandal [emphasis in original]. Journal management has been found guilty of 27 labor law violations. Yet the paper keeps using unlawful tactics. Refusing to bargain for a fair contract. Stalling negotiations. Intimidating employees. The paperís owners even cut health-care coverage and vacation days despite making $608 million in revenue this year."

The commercial goes on to indicate that a public forum will be held December 10 on the subject, and it asks listeners to, "Take a stand against corporate greed in Providence." The forum, planned for the aldermanís chambers at City Hall, is due to be held by the Rhode Island Workersí Rights Board, a project of Rhode Island Jobs With Justice, a liberal advocacy group headquartered in the same building as the Providence Newspaper Guild.

Journal publisher Howard G. Sutton didnít return a call and executive editor Joel P. Rawson declined comment.

Guild administrator Tim Schick described the upcoming public forum and the 10-day radio advertising campaign, whose cost he estimated at $20,000, as part of the unionís stepped-up efforts since July to resume contract negotiations with Journal management. The Guild, which represents more than 400 reporters, photographers, and other workers at the newspaper, has been without a contract for almost four years. The pressure campaign has included pickets in front of the Journal building, including a November breach by visiting CWA workers that reached into the paperís newsroom (See "Lockdown on Fountain Street," News, November 14), and handbilling at some ProJo advertisers.

The Workersí Rights Board hearing, to be chaired by City Councilman Miguel Luna, grew out of talks between the Guild and Jobs With Justice, and it ties in with events being coordinated nationally by the AFL-CIO on December 10, International Human Rights Day. Although the board has no legal force, "I think this is important in terms of having some people who are not involved in the dispute look at the issues," Schick says, "and these will be Rhode Island people who are familiar with the dynamics in Rhode Island." Although some might expect the boardís finding to be preordained, Schick says he doesnít expect the panel to include people directly involved in the labor movement. "Yes, there are some natural alliances between labor and those groups," he says, referring to Jobs With Justice and its Workersí Rights Board, "but itís not a sure thing."

Although the composition of the board remained unclear, JWJ director Matthew Jerzyk says, "I think the people who will sit on this panel arenít joined at the hip to Jobs With Justice or the Newspaper Guild. Theyíre respected, and in some cases, elected members of our community, trying to provide a forum in which this can be heard."

At any rate, such efforts may bring a little more attention to the long-running Guild-management dispute. Schick says the ProJo has carried eight references to the situation since January 2000, several of them buried deep in the story or consisting of a passing reference. Other than the Phoenix, "No one else has done any sustained coverage," he says.

Issue Date: December 5 -11, 2003
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