The Newspaper Guild of New York responded to action taken against Reuters journalists, including several respected veterans, during the last two months by bringing 18 cases before arbitrators.
Using the dispute resolution provision in the contract between the union and Thomson Reuters Corp., Guild lawyers demanded that the American Arbitration Association set hearings for each disciplinary case, the first of 29 to make their way through the system. Each of the 18 cases was brought by the Guild in the internal grievance process and rejected by management.
The 18 arbitration demands are the most ever filed at one time against Thomson Reuters or any other employer with which the Guild deals. Grievances on at least seven more individual cases of discipline, as well as a general challenge to the way management carried out its disciplinary assault, are also pending and will become eligible for arbitration by July, if they are not resolved.
Four of the 29 cases will not go to arbitration because the employees decided to leave the company under terms that permit the Guild to report only that an amicable deal was reached.
“This isn’t a story about a union defending dead wood,” said Guild Secretary-Treasurer Peter Szekely in a statement. “It’s about challenging a management offensive that not only violates our contract, but has unfairly singled out a group of predominantly veteran journalists for undeserved discipline, leaving dozens of distinguished careers blemished or finished.”
Each of the 29 journalists and support staff whose cases have been challenged since early April received Performance Improvement Plans, or PIPs, that alleged performance deficiencies and contained disciplinary language, as well as separate verbal reprimands. Under progressive discipline, such reprimands can eventually lead to termination. Most of those targeted were older and longer serving; 16 of the 18 in arbitration are over 40.
The union is arguing that Thomson Reuters managers committed recurring contract violations in each of the 18 cases bound for arbitration, including that of a newly agreed ban on using performance appraisals or any of their offshoots as a basis for discipline.
Arbitrators have the power to overturn management’s actions, which in these cases would mean nullifying the discipline.
Their decisions are final and binding, but the process can take up to a year in cases like these.