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U.S. sets date for action against Thomson Reuters on labor front

04/14/2011

NLRB to add three more alleged violations

Federal authorities on Wednesday set April 29 for issuance of the massive complaint against Thomson Reuters that was announced last week, unless management settles its 30 month-old contract dispute with the Guild or resolves the multiple allegations it faces.

In a letter to Guild and company lawyers on April 13, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said it would hold off on issuing a complaint on charges that include unlawfully implementing pay and benefit cuts until after Guild and management negotiators meet in an already scheduled April 26 bargaining session with a federal mediator.

“However, if no settlement of the contract dispute is reached or if the Employer has not agreed to enter into an informal settlement with the (NLRB) by April 28, 2011, the complaint in this case will issue on April 29, 2011 in order to avoid further delays in the processing of this case,” Manhattan acting Regional NLRB Director Karen Fernbach said in her letter to the parties.

The NLRB also notified the Guild and management that it plans to add three more allegations to its complaint, namely that management illegally changed the health care and the 401(k) plans and that it illegally applied a code of conduct to Guild-covered employees that was never negotiated with the union, unlike the negotiated code that it is cited in the “red book” contract. The agency is still considering other Guild charges.

On April 6, the NLRB told both sides it intends to issue a complaint – similar to an indictment – against Thomson Reuters with numerous allegations of wrongdoing that include management’s Jan. 19, 2010 impasse declaration in contract talks, unilaterally imposing rules that cut pay and benefits, replacing collective bargaining with a management-controlled compensation system and restricting employees’ rights to use Twitter to communicate with co-workers about working conditions.

GIVING SETTLEMENT A CHANCE
Before issuing complaints on unfair labor practice charges, the NLRB typically notifies both sides of its intentions in an effort to encourage a settlement. In response, management lawyers asked the agency to wait until the two sides met with a federal mediator on April 26. In her letter, Fernbach said the NLRB agreed to do so “in furtherance of the Agency’s goal of encouraging pre-complaint settlements of unfair labor practice disputes.”

If the NLRB issues its complaint on April 29 as scheduled, a date for an administrative trial will likely be set at around that time. The Manhattan regional office of the NLRB would prosecute the case, along with Guild lawyers. The NLRB says it wins convictions 90 percent of the time. If the judge sustains the complaint and the decision is upheld on appeal, the company would be ordered to roll back its imposed work rules, restore the terms of the “red book” contract and repay employees the amount the NLRB found it illegally took, plus interest.

The Guild estimates that employees have lost more than $2.4 million a year in compensation because of management’s illegally imposed work rules. The company’s two imposed pay raises, by comparison, each amounted to less than $400,000.

GUILD SUGGESTS MEDIATED TALKS
Management agreed to the Guild’s suggestion to pursue mediation after nearly two months of wrangling. We first suggested non-binding mediation on February 18 in an attempt to get a fair deal. Management’s outside lawyers, of course, didn’t take to the idea, and put up road block after road block.

Management lawyers rejected the first private mediator we picked, Martin Scheinman, a highly respected New York area labor mediator and arbitrator, who has mediated scores of difficult disputes. As an arbitrator in two separate contract interpretation disputes between the Guild and Reuters, he ruled in the company’s favor both times.

After management rejected Scheinman, we offered a slate of distinguished independent mediators, and asked the management team to choose one:  

  • John Feerick, a highly credentialed Fordham Law School professor;  

  • Daniel Silverman, a former NLRB Regional Director who received a Distinguished Service Award from President Clinton in 1997;  

  • Michael Gottesman, an expert in employment and labor law at Georgetown University; 

  • John E. Zuccotti, an adjunct professor at both Yale and Columbia law schools ;

  • Joshua Javits, a veteran mediator who heads a firm specializing in dispute resolution.

We proposed these big legal guns because of the size and complexity of our case. But management’s team shot each of these suggestions down, insisting instead that we meet only with a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).

The Guild then suggested that we appoint a mediation panel composed of the FMCS mediator and any one of the independent mediators we offered (to be chosen by the company’s legal team). Again, no dice. Nothing would do except a solo mediator from FMCS. So, that’s what we agreed to do on April 26.

The Guild and management are currently discussing a neutral location for the meeting.

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