Even the Company’s lawyers acknowledged today that journalists who are members of the Newspaper Guild have a right to speak out publicly in support of the union.
Their comments came after Editor Rex Smith sent out a memo right before the Company canceled the contract that implied journalists should think twice about speaking publicly.
“If you find yourself in a position where you can’t keep your opinions to yourself, and you think that may limit your ability to do your job with the independence good journalism demands, we will try to find you an assignment that will not be affected by your conflict of interest,” Smith wrote. “But we place the burden on you to let your supervisor know before a conflict arises.”
Guild bargainers asked the Company if they were claiming that journalists who want to speak on behalf of the Guild had to get Smith’s permission. The Company said that was not the case.
“Guild members have every legal right to speak out on behalf of their union, to walk picket lines, to participate in boycotts, to talk to leaders of other unions and to talk to elected officials or anyone else willing to help us get a fair contract,” Guild President Tim O’Brien. “As a person who believes in free speech, Rex should not be implying that journalists forfeit their rights.”
The issue arose after Guild members who live in Albany spoke to the Albany Common Council Monday in support of legislation backing the Guild.
Smith himself once scoffed on his radio program at the Guild’s initial wage offer during contract negotiations with the Associated Press. He had no hesitation to make his opinion known in that incident, and obviously did not feel the need to reassign himself away from his role as editor overseeing coverage of labor issues or to send a memo to staff implying he had done something wrong.