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Guild: 1, CA: 0

District judge compels newspaper to resume arbitration with its workers.

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Last week the Newspaper Guild of Memphis won a major legal victory in its ongoing labor dispute with The Commercial Appeal.

The Newspaper Guild, which represents writers, advertising sales, maintenance, and transportation workers, has been without a contract since January 2004. On August 9, 2004, Nashville attorney Michael Zinser, noted for his anti-labor record, filed a federal declaratory action lawsuit on behalf of The Commercial Appeal in an effort to unbind the newspaper from the "evergreen" clause that extends terms of an expiring contract until it's replaced by a new agreement. In the lawsuit, Zinser and the CA expressed their belief that without an existing contract the newspaper has no legal obligation to arbitrate employee grievances. On February 15, 2006, U.S. district judge J. Daniel Breen denied the CA's motion and compelled the newspaper to resume arbitration.

In his decision, Judge Breen noted that "the language of the so-called evergreen clause has been present in every collective bargaining agreement between [The Memphis Publishing Company] and [the guild] since at least 1977." Judge Breen pointed out that the pertinent clause had been invoked previously and that the CA had never challenged its obligation to arbitrate grievances.

"This is a huge victory for us," says the Newspaper Guild's lead negotiator Michael Burrell. "Of course, we expect there will be an appeal."

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