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Union accuses Thomson Reuters of illegal pay cuts and Twitter curbs

A union filed a complaint against Thomson Reuters alleging it is illegally imposing pay cuts and restricting what employees can write on their Twitter accounts.

In a complaint filed with the US National Labor Relations Board, the Newspaper Guild of New York charged that Thomson Reuters plans to cut wages of reporters and other employees by an average of 10 per cent this year without the union's consent.

Thomson Reuters disputed the figure, saying it is guaranteeing a 0.5 per cent increase for the more than 400 US journalists represented by the union at Reuters News. Some will get bigger raises, based on how well they do their jobs, Thomson Reuters said in a statement. "We believe such a system is fairer than a lockstep system and is essential for Reuters' future," the company said.

The union's complaint alleges that on 19 January Thomson Reuters improperly declared an impasse in the negotiations, which have been running for more than a year.

Other media companies, mostly newspapers, have been lowering wages and requiring unpaid leaves of absence  during the past year as a severe advertising slump dried up their main source of revenue. The Newspaper Guild contends Reuters has not been hit as hard because it is not as dependent on advertising as newspapers.

"This dispute is really about saving quality journalism in this country," said New York Guild President Bill O'Meara. "If a healthy company like Thomson Reuters - whose CEO made almost as much in 2008 as our 420 members' annual salaries - cuts pay, it will cause less healthy news organizations to cut even more, and pretty soon many of the journalists our democracy depends on won't be able to afford to stay in the business."

The complaint also alleges that Thomson Reuters has not followed proper procedures for drawing up its policy governing its employees' use of Twitter, the online social networking tool for broadcasting brief messages.

Thomson Reuters bars its workers for posting anything "that would damage the reputation of Reuters News or Thomson Reuters." A union activist was reminded of the policy after responding to a senior manager's call to "join the (Twitter) conversation on making Reuters the best place to work" with a tweet that said: "One way to make this the best place to work is to deal honestly with Guild members." ■

The Associated Press