Labor Disputes Dampen Holiday Spirit

By: Mark Fitzgerald

This is high season for labor relations, the annual period from November to January when unions seeking a contract traditionally step up their activities at newspapers that don’t really want anything to upset their harvest of holiday advertising. While no big strike looms, the end of this year nevertheless has been an unusually active period, with disputes roiling in suburban Washington, Kenosha, Wis., Providence, R.I., and elsewhere.

A union representation election scheduled for Dec. 12 at Journal Newspapers Inc. in Maryland was postponed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild obtained an emergency injunction following the layoff of eight newsroom employees, described by the Guild as union supporters, at The Prince George’s Journal in Lanham and The Montgomery Journal in Rockville. In dueling press releases, the community papers complained the union had chosen “to block the democratic process” by asking to halt the election, while the Guild highlighted “unlawful firings and other employer actions aimed at spreading fear among Journal employees and making a fair election impossible.”

At the Kenosha News, Guild members, who had walked an informational picket line earlier this fall, began collecting pledges for subscription cancellations this month. Guild-represented employees have been working without a contract since Jan. 31.

At the Saint Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, the Guild unit recently presented Publisher Harold Higgins with a petition complaining about management contract proposals. It was signed by 82% of organized employees.

At The Providence Journal, where the Guild contract expired at the end of 1999, most attention has turned to the NLRB, which has held hearings throughout the fall on the unfair-labor complaints filed by the union.

There’s not necessarily a pattern to the increased labor activity, but the Guild in particular has been “a lot more proactive” around the country, said Linda K. Foley, president of The Newspaper Guild-CWA. The union has been active in a number of issues, such as health care. It supported efforts to get prescription contraceptives covered in health plans at The Associated Press and Dow Jones & Co. Inc.

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