U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick has sided with the Pacific Media Workers Guild in an ongoing battle with Hearst Corp. over whether the company must arbitrate a member’s pay dispute at the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Guild had filed a court motion to compel arbitration after Hearst initially refused, insisting it had a contractual right to decide the pay dispute in its own favor. The company filed an opposing motion asking Judge Orrick to dismiss the Guild’s case.
On Tuesday, Orrick issued a seven-page written decision rejecting the company’s arguments and granting the Guild’s motion. Orrick wrote that even the threshold question of whether the dispute was arbitrable should be decided by arbitration.
The decision effectively limits Hearst’s ability to exploit a loophole in the Chronicle Guild contract inserted in 2009, when the company threatened to shut down the newspaper if the Guild refused to accept that and other concessions.
The Guild has maintained all along that the limit on automatic arbitration was intended only for a very few cases — and not when a legitimate issue was involved.
In the case decided Tuesday, the underlying dispute had to do with a pay increase the union claimed was owed Gloria La Riva, a former typographer who is now one of the Guild’s members. She was previously a member and top local leader of the Bay Area Typographical Union, which merged into the Pacific Media Workers Guild.
La Riva, a veteran labor organizer and political activist, now serves as First Vice President of the Media Workers, also known as Local 39521 of TNG-CWA.
Hearst cited various technical grounds to deny the pay raise. None of them found favor with Judge Orrick.
During oral arguments last week, a lawyer for Hearst claimed, for example, that the union had missed a filing deadline to take the case to an arbitrator, even though Chronicle management had agreed with the Guild to defer the matter long enough for the employee’s performance to be reviewed by her supervisor.
A side agreement attached to the Guild contract sets out certain terms for the former Typographical Union members. One provision states that employees in La Riva’s situation would be entitled to future raises as specified by the Guild contract.
The company claims the side agreement effectively capped pay, part of a so-called “lifetime job guarantee.” Just what the various details of the agreement mean will presumably now be headed to an arbitrator to decide after Orrick’s ruling. The company has said it would accept Orrick’s decision if it lost its motion to dismiss, and agree to arbitrate the merits of the Guild’s grievance.
Attorney Sheila Sexton of Beeson, Tayer & Bodine represented the Guild.