I have no problem with The Memphis Flyer reporting on labor negotiations at The Commercial Appeal ("Extra! Extra!" June 23rd issue), although I thought your reporter would have provided us an opportunity to answer the litany of accusations made by the union's hired guns before publishing them as fact.
Flyer writer Chris Davis spoke with Henry Stokes, our director of administration and planning and got our response to a short list of questions. But the article was replete with incorrect statements that we had not been asked about. The source of these errors appears to be union propaganda. Perhaps your reporter was confusing attribution with fairness.
I would like to briefly correct the record on some of these inaccuracies:
First, the guild does not have 371 members at The Commercial Appeal. That is the number of employees covered by the contract of which slightly less than half are members. The guild does not let nonmembers participate in its meetings or vote on company proposals.
The Flyer story states that in November of last year eight members of the guild bargaining team lost their jobs. The fact is that only one of the guild bargaining team was laid off.
Regarding the "Evergreen Clause," federal law gives an employer the right to not process post-expiration grievances to arbitration. The guild failed to abide by the provisions of a side agreement to the contract and then tried to force arbitration in violation of the spirit of the agreement. The Commercial Appeal had no choice but to go to court to protect our rights.
The Flyer states that the police were called when the union has exercised its First Amendment rights by demonstrating at company events. This is not true. The police have not been called to prevent or disrupt any union demonstrations.
The Flyer states that the guild's bargaining agent was banned from The Commercial Appeal's building. That is not true. We do require that he restrict his visits to an office provided by the Human Resources Department. He has, in fact, visited the newspaper building to conduct union business on many occasions and as recently as this spring. No guild official has been harassed. Personnel actions are private matters between the employee and the company and it would not be appropriate to discuss them in public.
The Flyer has inappropriately confused company employee drivers with independent contracted carriers. Drivers are employees who drive company owned or leased trucks and enjoy the same benefits as other employees similarly situated. Carriers, as long established by federal statute, are independent contractors. They pick up papers at our drop sites and deliver them to homes. They are paid according to the provisions of their contract. As independent contractors they have control over the means of accomplishing the tasks in their contract. No "part-time employees who once stuffed inserts" were laid off to transfer this work to carriers.
The Flyer story also features graphics allegedly showing historic "merit pay" at The Commercial Appeal. The newspaper does not have a merit-pay system for its union-covered employees. The pay described in the charts is actually "above scale pay" and has absolutely no relation to the merit-pay system we are proposing. An employee may receive above-scale pay for a number of reasons; a merit-based pay system rewards top performers better than nonperformers. The charts are based on a "study" conducted by a Washington, D.C.-area consultant that works primarily for unions and uses data provided by the union.
We are willing to increase the pay of our union-covered employees. However, we strongly believe that the amount of increased compensation should have something to do with performance. We offered to allow the union to try our merit-pay system this year so that their members and the others within the bargaining unit could receive an increase. This offer did not preclude the union from continuing to bargain for its own pay plan in the future. It was merely an opportunity for guild-covered workers to see for themselves how fairly such a system can work. The proposal has an objective set of criteria for employee evaluation and an appeal process if an employee is dissatisfied.
Finally, we should note that our guild-covered employees are well-paid in the Memphis market. The six picketers shown on page 16 made approximately $315,000 last year, not counting company-paid benefits. Under our merit-pay plan, they would have made even more this year.
President and Publisher
The Commercial Appeal
Editor's note: As Wilcox states, there are 371 employees at The Commercial Appeal who are represented in labor negotiations by the Memphis Newspaper Guild. In union terms, they are considered members of the "collective bargaining unit." According to Samantha Norton, office manager of the Memphis Newspaper Guild, 204 of those 371 employees are members of the guild. Eight members of the bargaining unit were laid off last November. The Flyer's use of the phrase "bargaining team" was technically inaccurate.
"Drivers," as defined by The Commercial Appeal, refers to those who deliver bulk papers by truck. The section of the Flyer story describing conditions under which "drivers" were required to stuff advertising materials into the newspaper should have termed those workers as "carriers."
Whether or not police "were called" to guild demonstrations, police appeared and confronted guild members as they picketed a Commercial Appeal jobs fair at the Agricenter and a CA event at the zoo.
To the Editor:
As the child of a union man, I was smart enough to see what was going on. As a result, I am a very anti-union person. However, in this case I think both the CA and the union are wrong.
The union is outside the mainstream in opposing merit-pay raises. In the real world, merit pay is the norm. No one gets an across-the-board raise just because they show up every day.
By the same token, the CA is wrong in forcing its contractors to do company business. The contractors are contracted to deliver the paper, not become a part of its production. The CA's production has suffered greatly of late. Is that the fault of the CA or a slowdown by the union? I don't know, nor do I care. I just know it's getting lousier all the time and needs more than revamping the obituaries and putting the comics in the want-ads (two terrible decisions).
To the Editor:
Thanks for Chris Davis' hard-hitting story on The Commercial Appeal's failure to negotiate with its union members on a contract that would uphold the union's right to protect the senority-raise system. The discriminatory and potentially manipulative use of merit raises only became abundantly clear through reading your article.
I have been a CA subscriber for over 15 years, so I felt compelled to write to publisher John Wilcox to complain about the newspaper's anti-labor behavior. In response to my carefully worded and respectful e-mail to him, I received the following message: "This message has been sent to a junk-mail folder without being opened."
How's that for caring about what your customers think?
Gail S. Murray
Fixing the Facts
To the Editor:
Thanks for your "Fixing the Facts" editorial (June 23rd issue) on the revelations in the Downing Street memos. Nothing short of "high crimes and misdemeanors" seems appropriate to describe taking our country into an unnecessary war on false pretenses. Why is there not a massive outcry from the public?
To the Editor:
When it comes to government secrecy in war, I remember the words of a congressman from Illinois:
"The administration should clarify its intent," he said. "People lack confidence in the credibility of our government." Even our allies are beginning to question what we say, he charged. "It's a difficult thing today to be informed about our government even without all the secrecy," he said. "With the secrecy, it's impossible. The American people will do what's right when they have the information they need."
You see, in 1966, Congressman Donald Rumsfeld realized what not telling the truth to the American people would lead to. Amazing how history repeats itself.
To the Editor:
Thanks to The Memphis Flyer for powerfully saying what I and so many other Americans have waited to see in the U.S. media for a long time! It is now completely obvious that we have a president and vice president who are worse than Nixon and Agnew when it comes to lying and cover-up. The Downing Street memos prove it. Bush, Cheney, and their cronies have gotten over 1,700 of our brave soldiers killed and over 10,000 wounded in a war based on lies. This is Vietnam all over again. And the result will be the same: a huge loss of life and a mammoth loss of tax-payers' money. It is criminal!
Vietnam War veteran
Porno is Not Cool
To the Editor:
I picked up your Summer Issue '05 (June 16th) to read the article about Scandaliz Vandalistz by Bianca Phillips. A few pages later, Phillips listed her "cool spots" on Summer Avenue. At the top of the list? Paris Adult, which in its supreme coolness "sells and rents porno movies gay, straight, and fetish."
Pornography is completely not cool, and I am appalled that The Memphis Flyer would describe it as anything but detrimental, degrading, and dangerous. In the future, please act with discretion and responsibility.
Which leads me to put on my Dr. Phil face and say what has to be said: It's time for Memphis and Shelby County to start seeing other people. We've tried for years to patch things up, to come to some sort of mutual understanding, but we need to admit that we have irreconcilable differences. We don't even know each other any more ...