PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Labor unions are protesting an effort by The Providence Journal to avoid giving its employees time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and holidays.
The R.I. Department of Labor and Training has scheduled a hearing Oct. 17 to discuss a change to state overtime rules that would exempt “employers in the newspaper business that produce a product seven days a week” from providing “premium pay for holidays and Sundays.” The new rule would also exempt 24-hour animal care facilities.
Teamsters Local 251 noted The Journal and its parent company, Gatehouse Media, were previously found to have failed to pay required overtime and wound up having to give employees back pay.
“A company with a track record of violating state law for four years, and hiring low-wage, no-benefit part-timers, does not deserve public sympathy,” said Davis Robbins, the union’s contract coordinator.
Matthew Taibi, Local 251’s principal officer, argued overtime exemptions should be determined by the General Assembly, not rule changes by the Raimondo administration.
“Also, Gatehouse Media should not be given a public subsidy in the public notices requirement under the law,” Taibi said, referring to legal notices that must run in print. “In this day and age of digital media and declining print newspapers, this law is just a cash cow for Gatehouse top executives, serving no public good.”
The Providence Newspaper Guild, which represents Journal reporters, said it supports the Teamsters’ protest.
“Our members would also be directly affected by this exemption if it’s approved,” Betsy Regan, the Guild’s administrator, said in an email. “Bottom line, we are against the exemption being approved.”
The Journal’s recently appointed publisher, Peter Meyer, described the Teamsters’ statement as “both inaccurate and inflammatory.”
“We look forward to outlining the full and accurate merits of our application before the Rhode Island Department of Labor & Training,” Meyer said in an email.
Josh Block, a spokesperson for Gov. Gina Raimondo, described the proposed overtime exemption for daily papers as “a regulatory change designed to bring Rhode Island in line with every other New England state.”
Added DLT spokesperson Angelika Pellegrino, “In order to stay competitive with our neighboring states, the department drafted regulatory language in line with every other New England state that would exempt entities that print and publish daily newspapers and online news content from these requirements. We are seeking public input on these draft regulations.”
The battle with the Journal workforce comes as Gatehouse is seeking to become the largest newspaper publisher in the country by merging with USA Today publisher Gannett. Media analyst Ken Doctor wrote earlier this week that executives hope the merger will go through by the end of the year.
The Providence Newspaper Guild’s parent union, NewsGuild-CWA, is planning to distribute flyers protesting the proposed merger on Thursday outside Gatehouse newspapers across the country, including The Journal and the New Bedford Standard-Times. NewsGuild President Bernie Lunzer predicted the merger will mean “massive layoffs.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook