Will 850 Union-Trib Workers Vote Out Their Guild? p.8

By: Randy Dotinga A long-festering San Diego labor feud will come to a climax on June 11,
meanwhile both sides are pointing fingers and exchanging insults

ON JUNE 11, after seven years without a cost-of-living wage increase, nearly 900 Newspaper Guild-CWA employees at the San Diego Union-Tribune will vote on whether or not to throw out their union.
As the decertification ballot neared, both sides were passing out buttons, putting on T-shirts and working on their hard sell ? as tempers flared.
""There are definitely some areas where there is tension,"" said Jeff Arnett, a leader of the anti-union movement.
The Newspaper Guild organized the company's employees 61 years ago and survived the 1992 merger of the jointly operated San Diego Union and San Diego Tribune. The union, with 850 members, represents the newsroom, circulation, accounting, circulation advertising, maintenance, advertising, ad services and marketing departments.

Union busting charges
Labor relations have long been strained for so long the vote was inevitable. Craig D. Rose, a business reporter and chairman of the union bargaining committee, says the company has been engaged in a ""decade-long union busting effort.""
In 1989, tensions over a contract led to a byline strike in which many reporters withheld their names from stories. Facing a possible strike, management advertised for replacement workers.
The latest round of labor troubles started in 1994, when a protracted struggle began over a new contract. Unable to agree on a new contract as their old contract expired in 1995, workers have stayed on the job under terms of the old contract.
According to Rose, the company has made unreasonable demands. Union members were especially angered by a 1994 management proposal allowing employees to be fired for ""disparagement"" of the newspaper or its officials, on or off the company property, he said.
Rose said union members were also incensed by a clause that said the company must approve all second jobs held by employees.
But the proposals do not appear in the current management offer, said Pat Marrinan, Union-Tribune manager of labor relations.
The biggest issue is pay raises. There has not been an across-the-board cost-of-living increase for all workers since before the 1992 merger, although some employees have received merit raises during the seven years.
The company wants to continue awarding raises based on merit, while the union wants raises for everyone.
The raises come on top of the normal pay scale for employees. Reporters, photographers and advertising salespeople with four years of experience make $674 a week ($35,048 a year) at the Union-Tribune under the old contract. Those with more than six years of experience make $833 ($43,316 a year).

Merit pay 'more fair'
In question-and-answer fliers given to employees, the company says merit pay is more fair than across-the-board raises. The union, the company says, is ""not in favor of employees showing initiative and being rewarded for doing so. . . . It is not fair for an employee who just gets by to get the same pay increase as someone who is giving extra effort and doing their best.""
But Rose said all workers deserve a raise, and he claims the company has abused the merit system. ""They're insisting on a merit pay system when hundreds and hundreds of people have been denied raises when they've gotten fair assessments,"" Rose said.
He contends that a union is vital. ""I'm passionate about the union,"" he said. ""I believe strongly that a union, and a labor contract it can bring, are a reasonable degree of security workers should be able to expect.""

30% request decertification vote
But many disagree and support the movement to get rid of the union. At least 30% of the union members signed a petition requesting the decertification vote. For decertification to become official, more than 50% of those voting on June 11 must support killing the union.
According to the Newspaper Guild-CWA, the last time a newspaper as big as the Union-Tribune held a decertification vote was in 1976. The vote, at the Washington Post, failed, and the union continued to operate.
The Union-Tribune, which has a daily circulation of 375,596 and a Sunday circulation of 454,085, is the nation's 21st largest newspaper.
The Guild has not had any other major decertification votes over the past 28 years, said Eric Geist, director of field operations. Records for years before 1970 weren't available.
The Union-Tribune isn't a stranger to union decertifications. In 1994, about 75 composing room employees decertified their chapter of the Communications Workers of America union, while about 240 employees in the packaging department decertified the CWA last October. (The Newspaper Guild and CWA are now combined.)

Arnett, the advertising account manager, said the current decertification effort is a product of years of contract disputes. The union, he said, blocks progress.
""They've tried to negotiate a contract and have gotten absolutely no place,"" he said. ""It's basically getting nowhere.""
Workers became ""fed up"" last summer when the union turned down a contract offer, Arnett said. He added that merit raises are both proper and popular. He said the union has made major mistakes, such as refusing to cooperate with the company about four years ago when managers wanted to meet with committees of employees to discuss morale.
The union balked at what it saw as collective bargaining, Arnett said. ""So basically it put a stop to the whole process of trying to address problems in the workplace.
""I see the union as basically pursuing their interests, their self-preservation,"" he said. ""You can do all the whining about 'the management does this and that,' but then seven years later you don't have a cost-of-living raise.""
The management of the Union-Tribune is not sitting on the sidelines as the fate of the union hangs in the balance. Managers are holding meetings with employees to answer questions, said Marrinan, the newspaper's labor manager. ""What we hope is that they will make an informed decision about whether or not they want Guild representation, and to the extent that we're able to, we're trying to provide them information to help them do that,"" Marrinan said. By law, she said, the newspaper cannot make promises about what will happen to pay or benefits if the union is thrown out.
But he did say the newspaper has made ""fair and reasonable"" offers to the union over the past three years.
So why the delay in finalizing a deal? ""The union won't sign a contract that we're willing to sign,"" he said.
?(Dotinga is an education reporter with the North County Times, Escondido, Calif.) [Caption]
?( Buttons tell tale of union decertification campaign at San Diego Union-Tribune) [Photo & Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www. mediainfo.com) [caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher june 6, 1998) [Caption]


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