Forward Assocation retaliates, fires Business Unit leader
The Forward, the newspaper’s website tells us, was launched as a Yiddish-language daily newspaper on April 22, 1897, under the leadership of its founding editor, Abraham Cahan. It “entered the din of New York’s immigrant press as a defender of trade unionism and moderate, democrat socialism.”
If only Abraham Cahan could see The Forward now!
For certain, The Forward’s editorial pages still sing the praises of unions and defend the oppressed, but one has to wonder if its managers believe – or even read – what they allow to be printed. Their actions screech much louder than their printed words.
The most recent display of anti-union animus came with the firing of Stephen Soule, the Guild’s chairperson of the newly formed Business Unit at the Forward Association. Oh, management would probably like you, or a subsequent arbitrator, to believe Soule’s departure was due to a layoff – a business decision to discontinue his position – but there is no doubt the termination was in retaliation for his Guild activity.
Soule was the driving force
It was Soule, a former Guild chairperson at The Nation, who initiated the drive to bring the business side of The Forward Association into the union. He collected signatures from members of the department seeking Guild representation and we filed for an election. The Guild filed a list of positions we believed would make an appropriate unit for the union with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Management challenged four of those positions, including Soule’s, claiming they were not appropriate. In Soule’s case, The Forward claimed that his job was supervisory and he was not entitled to union representation. Soule appeared at NLRB hearings voluntarily and testified strongly and convincingly on the Guild’s behalf and the board ruled that he was not, in fact, a supervisor.
The board ruled against the Guild regarding Jerry Koenig, the advertising director (another position challenged by The Forward), who was also at the hearings prepared to testify on the Guild’s behalf, and shortly after the NLRB’s decision was rendered, Koenig was fired.
The Guild actually won three out of the four positions that were challenged by The Forward. Another one that we won was Benefits Administrator Freyda Faivus. Management alleged that she should be excluded from union coverage because she is a confidential employee. She also voluntarily gave strong and convincing testimony to the contrary and the NLRB ruled that she should be included in the unit. The Forward Association, however, asked for a review of that decision and it is still being reviewed.
Not difficult to predict
Noting The Forward’s track record, if the original decision is eventually overturned, there is little doubt Faivus will also be fired. The Forward would probably term it a layoff, but a firing by any other name. . .
When the Guild sat down with management to negotiate an initial contract for the Business Unit, it was Soule who was at the table along with Local Representative Bob Townsend and Guild attorney Jessica Ochs.
The Forward’s initial proposals contained a reorganization of the Association which would eliminate Soule’s position. Outraged by the attempt to retaliate against and displace the Business Unit’s leader and other positions management took at the bargaining table, Townsend accused Forward negotiators of anti-union animus. Apparently infuriated that the Guild would have the unmitigated gall to suggest such a thing about an organization that was founded on such pro-labor principles, Publisher Sam Norich walked out of the negotiations and boycotted the next session.
Hit him in the wallet
Through long and difficult negotiations, management eventually offered Soule a position in the newly organized Forward Association, only at a dramatically reduced salary. Again, through long and extremely difficult negotiations The Forward eventually increased its offer so that Soule would only be taking a $10,000 pay cut. Soule – and the bargaining committee – accepted that offer.
The only problem was, management negotiators were insisting that Soule be given a probationary period in the new position (if we can’t get him now, we’ll get him later?). After all, Soule would be moving from the Circulation Department to the Advertising Department, it’s only fair to see if he could make the transition and be productive. Soule’s a bright guy. The Guild had no doubt he could make the transition. But obviously we didn’t trust the company. Normally, when an employee is serving a probationary period, management can fire the employee virtually at will without any recourse available to the employee or the Guild. But we demanded the right to arbitrate if, in the jaundiced eyes of the Publisher, Soule flunked his probation.
Another long and rigorous negotiation ensued on the arbitration issue. This is the agreement, in part, that was reached:
“It is agreed that in the event Stephen Soule is terminated during the probationary period, such may be submitted to arbitration before [arbitrator] Martin Scheinman who shall decide whether the Forward action was arbitrary or capricious or made in bad faith. . . . It is agreed that The Forward shall have the burden of proof.”
OK, The Guild will arbitrate
The Guild is notifying Scheinman that we are taking Soule’s termination to arbitration.
As we said, advertising was whole new world for Soule. Management gave him no training nor guidance in the new position. They gave him no appraisals to let him know how he was performing along the way. In the Forward’s eyes, his failure was pre-determined.
When Norich is of a mind to dispute the Guild’s allegations that The Forward has anti-union animus, he takes bows for the fact that he allowed the Guild to organize the editorial department of the English-Language Jewish Forward without going to an election. That came about after the Guild negotiated a provision in the Yiddish-language Jewish Forward contract which read: “The Publisher shall grant representation by the Guild to employees of the English-language Forward upon a showing by the Guild that at least 51% of eligible employees have signed application cards for such representation.” That sort of provision is commonly known as “card check.”
When the Guild was bargaining an initial contract for the newly formed English-language unit, we proposed a similar card-provision go into that contract that would allow us to organize other areas of the Association without going to an election. Management denied that proposal. When Norich was asked why he would grant such a proposal in the Yiddish contract and then reject it in the English contract his response was: “Because you used it.”
“Look what it got us”
After the Business Unit was organized – by going through the election process, which was won by a unanimous vote – the Guild proposed card check language in the Business Unit contract. Again, management turned us down. Again, Norich was asked why he would agree to the language in the Yiddish Forward contract, but not in the Business Unit contract, he waved his hand in front of the Guild’s side of the bargaining table and said: “Look what it got us.”
Such is the state of affairs at the modern-day Jewish Forward.
If only Abraham Cahan could see The Forward now!