Reuters faces walk-out

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By: Joe Strupp Union votes to authorize strike if demands aren't met
by Joe Strupp

Union workers at Reuters' U.S. operation voted last week to authorize a strike that could affect more than 600 employees of the global news operation, which is considered one of the United States' leading financial news sources.
The Newspaper Guild of New York says the vote gives the union's president, Barry Lipton, and the Guild's nine-member bargaining committee the right to call a strike at Reuters America Inc. if it is deemed necessary, but say no strike date has been set.
The union represents about 585 U.S. editorial, technical, and sales support staff at Reuters America, the main U.S. operating subsidiary of the London-based company. The last U.S. strike at Reuters was in 1980.
In the first required step for a strike, 210 members voted between April 13 and April 15, with 187 in favor of walking off the job, 17 against, and six abstaining, says Peter Szekely, a Newspaper Guild unit chair.
A strike would require authorization from the Communications Workers of America, Szekely says. The union is a local unit of the CWA. Union workers represent about 26% of Reuters U.S. staff of 2,285, says Reuters spokesman Robert Crooke.
Negotiations between the union and Reuters started in October 1997 and a previous contract expired on March 1, 1998. The terms of that contract remain in effect as long as the negotiations continue, officials say.
In a statement, the union criticized management's demands to cut pay and remove current protections that provide for retraining and redeployment of workers whose jobs are being cut. "There have been a number of issues that affect job security," Szkeley says. "Among them is the removal of protections for employees in the event of jobs being sub-contracted."
Szkeley also cites a dispute over a provision that protects jobs if new technologies are implemented and a request by the union that management exhaust all other cost-cutting options before resorting to layoffs.
Union leaders also are fighting a proposal to relocate the agency's New York-based TV financial coverage to London, which could threaten up to 20 jobs, Szekely says. "That's a job security issue and a work quality issue," Szekely says. "We think the quality will suffer if they move it to London."
Responding to the union vote, Reuters America says it is seeking a competitive, flexible, and fair contract with provisions on job security, pay, and benefits that match its major competitors. It also is criticizing the strike vote.
"With intensive negotiations continuing, it seems counterproductive to me that the Newspaper Guild of New York should be whipping up scare tactics like this," Glen Russo, Reuters director of employee and labor relations and its chief negotiator, says in a statement. "However, no one should doubt the company's determination to get the contract it needs to further legitimate business goals, or its determination to continue operations in the unfortunate event of a strike."
Reuters provides news and financial data to more than 485,000 customers, with nearly 2,100 journalists in 182 bureaus. Its worldwide staff is nearly 17,000.
In another development, the company's U.S.-listed shares fell 4% after it posted lower-than-expected first-quarter revenues. The company reported just under $1.24 billion in revenues; it was expected to post $1.24 billion to $1.26 billion. Reuters attributed the shortfall to weaknesses in foreign markets and poor foreign exchange.
Union members say they will keep working as bargaining continues, but the vote increases pressure on managers to reach an agreement. "They've tried to dismantle our contract," says Lipton. "We haven't set a strike deadline yet, but if things don't go well, the next step is to set a strike deadline."
Russo believes a strike can be averted.
"We hope very much that the negotiations will result in an agreement that is satisfactory to all and that the Guild does not pull the trigger on the strike vote authorization," Russo says.
Reuters America Inc., which is based in New York, is a subsidiary of Britain's Reuters Group Plc, which supplies global financial markets and news organizations with a wide range of real-time data, news, video, and photos.

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