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US appeals court upholds decision against Thomson Reuters

A US Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that forces Thomson Reuters to allow The Newspaper Guild of New York to seek arbitration to settle contract disputes.

The Guild, which represents 420 employees in the United States, is challenging Thomson Reuters’ decision to suspend automatic collection of union dues. The company had maintained it was not required to go to arbitration since the contract that guaranteed that right expired in February 2009.

“Simply put, we won the battle with Thomson Reuters about our right to fight for our members,” the Guild of New York said in a statement after Thursday’s ruling. The union and the company will go before an arbitrator on 13 December. Other hearings over disciplinary cases will be held early next year.

Jack Reerink, managing editor for the US and Canada, said in a note to staff explaining management’s position after the ruling: “The Guild wanted to make its case before an arbitrator. We went to court because we don’t like to be forced to arbitrate a dispute if we don't really have to.” He added that the company looks forward to making its case and that management hopes “this will not detract from the Guild’s willingness to agree to the fair labor deal we have offered”.

Thursday’s decision did not address the company’s declaration last January of an impasse in contract talks and the subsequent imposition of work rules that included changes in overtime pay and work schedules. Thomson Reuters and the union recently resumed negotiations after a 10-month break. Among the issues dividing them are the company’s desire to impose a merit system for pay increases and increased contributions for health care coverage. The company has offered a $1 million ratification bonus to be spread among the 420 unionized employees if an agreement can be reached before 15 December.

“Reuters is committed to negotiating a fair deal for everyone – an agreement that includes flexibility, rewards for excellence and more equal sharing of health costs, all of which are needed not only to remain competitive, but to keep growing,” a spokeswoman said. “Reuters stands behind its position, and looks forward to the day when the Guild returns to the bargaining table with a meaningful counterproposal.” ■