First of many Thomson Reuters PIP-related arbitrations ends
The process that has unfairly targeted more than 30 journalists at Thomson Reuters recently came under scrutiny in the first of more than 20 arbitrations related to so-called Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs). Lawyers for the Guild and management made their oral arguments and presented evidence in two hearings in July and August. The case was heard by Arbitrator Carol Wittenberg; written briefs from both sides are due October 16 and a ruling is expected in early December.
The Guild was represented by outside counsel Hanan Kolko, Local Representative Susan DeCarava, Unit Chair Debby Zabarenko who attended the first hearing and Grievance Chair Dan Grebler, who attended the second. Some members took personal time to attend in support of the grievant. Thomson Reuters management was represented by outside counsel Ana Salper (whom you may remember from days gone by) and Paul Rosenberg, as well as Glen Russo, vice president of Labor Relations.
A key issue in the case in which the Guild sought to void the discipline issued to a journalist is whether management can use the appraisal process, known within the company as the performance management program, in connection with discipline.
TRYING TO MAKE MANAGEMENT’S CASE
To make her case Salper sought to put management’s spin on a provision in the contract – Article VII, Section 1(i) – that squarely addresses the appraisal-discipline connection.
Here’s what the contract says.
“The performance management program as described in Appendix C or any substitute for it or supplement to it shall not be used in connection with the discipline of any employee.”
Salper described Appendix C of the contract, which outlines the performance management program, as an expression of management’s goal in contract talks to create a “pay-for-performance culture.” But she said the provision does not encompass PIPs, which are a separate “coaching tool,” meaning that, in the Bizarro World of management, PIPs are not a supplement to or substitute for the appraisal process. So, by that reasoning, the contract would not bar management from using PIPs as a basis for discipline.
Take a moment to digest the Orwellian logic which concludes that a performance improvement plan is not part of a performance management program.
IT’S ABOUT PAY, NOT DISCIPLINE
As was pointed out by the Guild’s Kolko in his opening arguments and by Guild President Bill O’Meara in his testimony, the result of the “pay-for-performance culture” management sought in bargaining is that the contract makes those who score well on their appraisals eligible for annual discretionary pay raises and bonuses.
When asked to summarize the negotiations around Appendix C and Article VII, Section 1(i), O’Meara testified that on several occasions the Guild affirmed its position that “the appraisal process would be used only for pay purposes, not for any discipline-related reason, and the company would retain the usual discipline rights.” Later, O’Meara testified about a conversation he had with Reuters Editorial Chief Operating Officer Stuart Karle during bargaining that further clarified the Guild’s view of the performance management program:
“He asked me if the company still had the right to discipline employees and I said, yes, of course, that as long as it did not involve the appraisal process or anything like it, they could discipline employees and I gave an example.
“I said, for instance, if you have an employee who is just not doing his or her job, if they are supposed to be covering news stories and they are not covering news stories, of course you can send that person a warning letter.”
THE TRUTH ABOUT PIPS
In her opening statement, Salper made three palpably false statements about how PIPs really work:
“PIPs are not punitive in any way.”
“The PIP is a benefit to the employee.”
“The PIP is a coaching tool.”
The PIP process described by Karle during our final contract talks would not have been punitive. But that’s not what happens in practice, because the PIP process as currently administered is punitive in the extreme.
The workplace equivalent of the nastiest fraternity hazing, and frequently based on the flimsiest pretext, the only potential benefit to the Guild members who have been PIP’d is the knowledge that they can withstand weeks and months of baseless, confidence-shattering attacks by managers who often have little expertise in the area they're meant to be assessing. The notion of PIPs as a coaching tool is simply laughable. That would be like coaching a football player by tying cinder-blocks to his feet, kicking him in the crotch and then saying, "I expected you to score this quarter. What happened?"
Sadly, the majority of those targeted have been veteran Reuters employees, with a median 22 years of service, twice as long as non-targeted employees. Management claims the PIP’d employees, including several with high-profile bylines, failed to respond to its demands that they “raise their game” to fight the tough competition the company faces. In the real world, however, the loss of such respected journalists is more than just a drain of intelligence-capital, more than a morale-wrecking ball; it represents the loss of the promise of what more could have been achieved for Reuters News as a whole.
PIP-related discipline is no slap on the wrist; it has led to the termination of four Guild colleagues, with more likely to follow. So far, eight others were made to feel so unwelcome that they elected to leave, with Guild-negotiated separation agreements.
Grievance and arbitration is how we get justice under our contract. Firing journalists or putting them in jeopardy without just and sufficient cause violates our contract. That’s why the Guild is arbitrating the case of every member who was fired or remains under a toxic PIP-induced cloud. Enforcing the contract through arbitration is the legal remedy available to the Guild. In addition, some PIP’d members have filed age discrimination claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Meeting at Guild on September 20
There’s plenty to discuss, and now members at Times Square have a time and place to discuss it, away from the 3 Times Square building: Thursday, September 20, from noon to 2 p.m., at the Guild’s offices, 1501 Broadway, Suite 708. You don’t need to come for the whole two hours, but we’ll be there to answer questions and address concerns.