Firing A Union Organizer p.4

By: George Garneau AT DONREY Media Group's Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo, Frankie Stapleton uneventfully juggled the roles of reporter and union rep for eight years ? until she lead a Newspaper Guild organizing drive at a sister paper nearby.
Three weeks before workers voted on union representation, management suspended her, and later fired her, on charges she conducted union business on company time and was insubordinate to supervisors.
After 20 years at the paper, Stapleton, 52, has only one job left: unpaid union rep. She denied doing anything wrong and is appealing through union arbitration procedures and through complaints to the National Labor Relations Board.
Newspaper Guild international President Linda Foley called the action against Stapleton "an outrageous breach of justice" and one of the most "blatantly illegal" acts she has seen by a newspaper in her 17-year union career.
"We are not going to let this stand, and we are going to fight it with everything we've got," Foley said.
The union called a press conference to denounce Stapleton's firing and organized informational picketing.
The National Labor Relations Act bars employers from penalizing workers for union activities. The Tribune-Herald's Guild contract permits reps to perform union functions while working, as long as they don't "unduly" interfere with their work.
Stapleton, 52, adamantly denied organizing while at work and said she meticulously separated organizing from her roles as shop steward and reporter. And any union business she conducted at work ? such as answering questions from members and passing out fliers ? was routine and had been accepted for years, she said.
"For years I have been passing out newsletters without it being an issue before, and I would often share them with management," she said. "It was the union-organizing drive that made it different."
Tribune-Herald publisher Jim Wilson, who also oversees Today, denied Stapleton's discipline was linked to the vote or was aimed at intimidating workers.
He said Stapleton was suspended without pay pending investigation into whether she had done union work on company time, and when management affirmed the charges, she was fired.
"She was seen doing union activities while she was on shift," he said. "She was passing out some kind of sign-up sheet and discussing activities of the union with other people on shift."
He said the company took the position that her on-the-job union activity ? several incidents, some involving the organizing campaign ? violated terms of the Guild contract.
Stapleton and other union officials said her suspension on Jan. 24 ? three weeks before the representation vote at West Hawaii Today, a Donrey paper across the island of Hawaii in Kailua-Kona ? was intended to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation among employees. Management provided no details ? what she did, when, where ? to justify the suspension.
On Feb. 13, following an aggressive management campaign, Today workers, in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, voted 32-9 to reject the Guild.
Two weeks later, Stapleton was fired from her $40,000-a-year reporting job. She and other union officials said the move was designed to send a message to unionized workers at the Tribune-Herald as they prepare to renegotiate a contract that expires in May.
Stapleton and other Guild officers flatly reject the notion of coincidence in Stapleton's discipline.
"It had everything to do with the organization drive," said Guild president Foley. "Clearly they wanted to put a chill on the organization drive, and clearly they succeeded. But they are going to be sorry they did."
Under contract terms, binding arbitration is scheduled for July 31.
Wayne Cahill, administrative officer of Newspaper Guild Local 117 in Honolulu, said the company's action was "so egregious" that the union has asked the NLRB to seek a federal court injunction reinstating Stapleton with back pay.
"We believe they are taking action against her solely because of her union activity," he said.
Managers never informed Stapleton, or her union, exactly why she was suspended: what she did, when and where.
Foley said management "did not even attempt to build a case," for suspending Stapleton. "They just decided to totally flaunt the law and just dismiss her. Then they had the audacity to say she did not cooperate in the investigation ? after they suspended her. It is so blatant and on its face so contrary to what labor law and the First Amendment allow. It's hard do believe a company would do this."
When news editor David Bock fired her, his three-page letter cited such offenses as organizing workers on company time, insubordination, misconduct, neglecting her duties, disrupting other workers, refusing to answer questions in a disciplinary hearing, and misusing the company's computer system.
He took great pains to affirm her right to organize workers as much as she wants ? on her own time.
At termination, Stapleton was paid 20 weeks severance and accrued vacation pay, according to contract terms.
Stapleton's firing took place amid a backdrop of less than idyllic labor relations. The Tribune-Herald, organized front to back by three unions, is Donrey's most heavily unionized paper. Local 117 of the Guild represents about 50 workers in news, advertising, circulation and business departments. The Graphic Communication International Union represents press operators, and the typographical unit of the CWA represents printers.
Today, on the other hand, is the state's only nonunion daily and successfully fended off an organizing effort a few years ago. During that campaign, the publisher was fined by the NLRB for taking down license plates of employees who attended a union meeting, Stapleton said.
Last year, Donrey, based in Fort Smith, Ark., brought in Michael Zinser, a Nashville, Tenn.-based management attorney formerly associated with King & Ballow, a firm notorious to newspaper unions. Zinser helped Donrey defeat a Guild organizing effort at the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1993 and spent months in Hawaii to repeat the feat at Today, where votes were taken in four bargaining units.
"I see this as Zinser trying to make me the goat as we head into negotiations," Stapleton said. "Donrey has a history of combining newspapers . . . and for years they've held it over our heads that they would shut down the Tribune and make West Hawaii into the island's only paper . . . .They float the idea every time we go into negotiations."
Zinser did not return a call to his office.
"It was kind of alarming to everyone," one Today staffer said of Stapleton's disciplinary actions, which left workers feeling "confused" and "threatened" during a campaign that was "very tense, a real drag."
This worker feared being fired for voting for the union and said management "implied" it would fight "tooth and nail" to avoid signing a contract if the union won the vote.
Workers, this employee theorized, opted not to risk their relatively secure jobs and good benefits by voting for the union and having to negotiate from zero.
Another employee refused to discuss the vote, saying, "It's a no-no to talk about it."
The campaign wasn't what anybody would call fun. Union officer Cahill was ejected from Today's parking lot. And when the union decided to hand fliers to employees as they went to work, somebody inside collected them, Stapleton said.
A 25-page question-and-answer booklet from management warned Today workers, for example: Nothing required management to agree to a union contract, wages could decline under union representation, and management can permanently replace strikers.
After being suspended, Stapleton, still an elected shop steward, went to the office to hand out notification of a union meeting and was ordered out of the office by news editor Bock and editor Eugene Tao, himself a former union official. Later she got a certified letter warning her not to return.
She said none of her superiors discussed the issue of union conflicts until they suspended her. At several hearings, she refused to answer some questions, on the advice of her representative, Cahill, who said managers had no right to inquire into conversations between Stapleton and the workers she represented.
Management at Hawaii paper says she worked for union on company time; she says she was fired for organizing

?(Frankie Stapleton, center, seated, answers questions during a Jan. 25
press conference. She is flanked by Wayne Cahill (left) administrative
officer of the Hawaii Guild; Linda Foley, president of the Newspaper Guild unit of the Communication Workers of America; and Russ Cain, Guild vice
president in charge of the Western district. ) [Photo]

?("Clearly they wanted to put a chill on the organization drive, and clearly they succeeded. But they are going to be sorry they did.") [Caption]
?(? Linda Foley, Newspaper Guild international president) [Photo]
March 22, 1997 n Editor & Publisher #


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