Thursday, September 04, 2003

Globe reporter suspended for pro-union action. (Note: This item has been corrected.) Boston Globe business reporter Jeffrey Krasner has been suspended for a week without pay because he displayed a pro-union sign that showed up in the background of a broadcast by New England Cable News, a content partner with the Globe.

I report some of the details about this incident in the print edition of this week's Phoenix. The story is online here. However, the punishment was handed down after the Phoenix had gone to press. Other details have emerged since that story was written as well.

Sometime on Friday, August 22, Krasner -- who worked at the Boston Herald and the now-defunct New England edition of the Wall Street Journal before moving to the Globe a few years ago -- placed a sign he had made protesting bogged-down contract negotiations on a part of his desk that could be seen in the background of the newsroom television studio.

The sign -- which reportedly said OUR WORKPLACE, UNRAVELING DAILY (a spoof on the Globe's ad campaign, YOUR WORLD, UNFOLDING DAILY) -- was picked up in an NECN segment that was airing from the Globe newsroom.

Krasner declined to comment, as did editor Martin Baron when I reached him Wednesday morning, before Krasner's suspension had been announced. Globe spokesman BMaynard Scarborough, in a statement released after the suspension, said, "The Globe respects employees' right to express an opinion, or to show support for their union. There are many ways to show such support. In instances where an employee interferes with the content of the newspaper or with a partner organization's broadcast or operation, the Globe considers this to be impermissible conduct and subject to disciplinary action."

Scarborough told me that the company would not comment on what punishment Krasner had received. But Steve Richards, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents some 1200 Globe employees, confirmed the one-week suspension late Wednesday afternoon. In an earlier conversation, he described Krasner's actions as the logical outcome of a 32-month impasse over issues such as management proposals to subcontract non-editorial jobs and to eliminate seniority as a consideration in layoffs.

"I think the incident is indicative of the tension, anger, and frustration that is being experienced throughout the building," said Richards. "It's not the most pleasant atmosphere in the building right now, and I think this incident stemmed from that." In recent weeks, the Guild has resorted to such tactics as buying a billboard advertisement on the Southeast Expressway, outside the Globe plant, and picketing at Fenway Park.

Later on Wednesday, Richards denied that the Guild was behind an effort to keep Globe staff members off NECN's airwaves, even though staffers received a notice in their mailboxes on Tuesday afternoon that appeared to have the union seal of approval. The notice, titled "Stay Off NECN," read as follows, according to a source:

Because of Globe management's discipline of a colleague, members of the Globe staff are being asked NOT to appear on any New England Cable News programs for the next week (and possibly longer) effective Wednesday, Sept. 3. If you have any questions about this, please contact the Newspaper Guild ...

"That was issued not from this office, despite the appearance that it was," Richards told me, adding that he and other union officials were actually engaged in contract negotiations at the time that the notice popped up. He said he told the perpetrators, whom he did not identify, "Please don't do it in the future."

Like Krasner's sign-holding incident, Richards described the call for a boycott of NECN as a sign of just how tense contract talks have become. "Jeff is a great guy and everybody likes him," Richards said. "But this goes deeper than standing up for your friend."

The bystander in all this was NECN, whose airwaves ended up getting used as part of the Globe's contract battle.

Charles Kravetz, NECN's vice-president of news and station manager, said, "I've been assured by the folks at the Globe that they're handling this matter, and that there won't be any similar incidents in the future. And I'm very comfortable that they're dealing with this as an internal issue, and that they're handling it in a way that will be comfortable for us and for them."

Today's Herald also has an account of Krasner's suspension, reported by Greg Gatlin.

Stay of execution. A federal appeals court, bless the judges' hearts, has at least temporarily halted the FCC's attempt to deregulate corporate media. At least for now, one company will not be allowed to own a daily newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same city, and networks will not be allowed to gobble up even more local television stations.

Here is Lyle Denniston's story in today's Globe.

New in this week's Phoenix. John Ashcroft's holy war against pornography threatens everyone's free-speech rights.

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