Guild ratifies 5-year pact at Eugene Register-Guard

EUGENE - A long-running dispute between the Newspaper Guild and the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper ended Oct. 3 when members of the union voted by a three-to-two margin to approve a new contract. The pact was presented to members without a recommendation from union leaders.

"We knew our membership was tired," said Guild President Adele Belinski. "It had been three years." The Guild, an affiliate of the Communication Workers of America, represents 150 Register-Guard workers - reporters, photographers, copy editors, and business, ad, and computer support staff. They'd been without a contract since April 30, 1999.

The new contract will last five years. All bargaining unit employees will get a $1,000 signing bonus. About half will get raises of 2 to 2.5 percent a year; some clerical workers will get larger raises, while advertising employees will get a 2 percent raise in the first year only.

Health care cost increases will be split between employees and the company.

A new drug-testing policy will require testing "for cause" or after an accident.

The paper dropped its insistence on a new management rights clause which would have allowed the managers to change work conditions without consulting the union.

The Guild conceded a number of hard-fought union rights. It accepted a policy against using company e-mail for any union matter, and a rule against wearing union insignia when in contact with the public. The paper continues to be an "open shop" (meaning the Guild must represent all employees in the unit, but employees are not obligated to pay union dues).

And during the life of the contract, the union agreed not to strike or to honor other unions' strike picket lines. Three other unions represent workers at the paper. Members of the Communications Workers of America's typographical division, and the Graphic Communications International Union signed contracts earlier. But 60 Teamster-represented post-press workers are still without a first contract two years after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered the paper to recognize the union and bargain in good faith.

The Register-Guard fought that order all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Oct. 7 refused to hear its appeal. That means now, if the NLRB finds the company still isn't bargaining in good faith, it can get a contempt of court ruling that could result in fines and jail time for the company's owner, Tony Baker.

"We'd love to see Tony Baker go to jail if he won't bargain a fair contract," said Teamsters Local 206 representative Steffan Ostrach.

It's very rare for the NLRB to issue such a "bargaining order" - requiring recognition of the union without an election. It did so because it found that during the Teamsters' May 2000 union drive, the Register-Guard violated labor law so seriously as to make an election meaningless.

"As soon as management found out about the union campaign," Ostrach recalls, "they announced a big wage increase, asked employees to share their complaints and grievances, made a bunch of promises, solicited employees to withdraw their signatures, terminated one of the organizers, and created the impression that employees would never get a union contract.

"There never was an election because they squashed the union campaign like a bug."

October 18, 2002 issue

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