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The Braille Monitor – October 2000 Edition


Tensions Mount in Deadlock between
Narrators and APH Management

by Sheila Koenig

Sheila Koenig
Sheila Koenig

From the Editor: One of the most familiar organizations in the blindness field is the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) in Louisville, Kentucky. And one of the most familiar parts of the APH operation is the recording studio that provides books and periodicals for the National Library Service. Less well known is the fact that APH narrators and management have been engaged in a wage dispute for more than two years. The problem seems to be coming to a head, so we thought that Braille Monitor readers would be interested in knowing something about what is going on since it may well affect everyone who reads Talking Books.

But figuring out what is going on has not been easy. Since the two sides are and have been negotiating, Dr. Tuck Tinsley, APH President, has been unwilling to say much for the record. The narrators and their union representative have been more forthcoming, but of course there are two sides to every disagreement. Braille Monitor reporter Sheila Koenig has done her best to discover what has been going on. This is what she says:

Dr. Tuck Tinsley, President of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), maintains, "People are our most important resource. We appreciate and respect the work of all our employees." The book and periodical narrators who work at

APH might disagree. In 1998 narrators organized a union as part of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) in order to try to obtain a stronger voice in determining their working conditions. APH currently employs twenty-seven part-time narrators, who work varying numbers of hours. According to narrators, the two full-time employees, who work about twenty-five hours a week, do the bulk of the reading.

The narrators are currently paid eighty-five cents per good recorded minute: a rate, they believe, that is completely inadequate. "For every minute we put on tape," says narrator Roy Avers, "we probably spend a total of three minutes working." Avers explains that narrators spend much additional time in the reference center reviewing dialect, word pronunciation, and background information. After the book has been recorded, it is sent to a proofreader, who checks it looking for errors. If any are found, the book is returned to the narrator to correct. The narrators say that the current pay schedule does not account for preparation or correction time, and the wage does not take into consideration differences in the level of reading difficulty.

Charles Abbott, studio director of Boston's Talking Book recording studio, WRS, confirms that his studio pays between $50 and $60 per good recorded hour. The range in pay depends both on the length of readers' tenure and the level of the material's reading difficulty. Narrators say that other studios pay comparable rates to Boston, with Talking Books Publishers, Inc., in Denver paying a rate of $1 a minute and the American Foundation for the Blind in New York paying $1.17.

When they raised this disparity, APH narrators say, management agreed to meet informally to discuss the matter. According to narrators, however, management was only willing to discuss APH's lack of funds. Eventually management offered three cents more a minute, but that seemed like an insult to the narrators, who had been hoping for something like twenty cents more a minute. Serious negotiations would occur, narrators concluded, only if they organized with a union.

Apparently Tinsley next offered them a pay schedule that was very close to what they had been hoping for, but the offer included no response to the narrators' plan to form a union shop. They concluded the time had come to organize with AFTRA. As soon as they did, the narrators say, management rescinded its most recent offer.

Since that time narrators and management have been negotiating. Negotiations, however, appear to be deadlocked. Herta Suarez, Chief Negotiator and Executive Director of AFTRA in the Tri-State Region (which includes Louisville), says, "It has been a very frustrating experience because it has been like bargaining with ourselves. It appears to all of us who have been involved that they [APH management] don't want to have a contract with AFTRA."

The narrators say they have orally refused the most recent offer extended by management, which they say was actually a reduction in pay of five cents a minute. The narrators say that management has told them this is APH's final offer. The narrators say they expect that, when they submit their written re fusal, management will most likely declare an impasse in negotiations. "Two-and-a-half years is a long time to wait," says Avers. "This wouldn't be a problem if management showed a willingness to work with us."

Suarez agrees: "There is no point in going to the table if they are taking the same position [they have previously maintained]."

It is pretty clear that the deadlock cannot hold much longer, but the narrators and management have different pictures of how it will be resolved. Tuck Tinsley says that he believes by October there will be a contract. "If not," he says, "[the narrators] will continue to work without contract. They are good people, committed to what we are doing."

The narrators think differently. They say that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is their only protection, but if management refuses to negotiate, the NLRB cannot protect them anymore. Narrators might consider a strike authorization vote, which would give them power to call a strike. Suarez says, "We are regrouping to determine which route to take in our long fight to try to get justice and a fair contract for these people."

Where all this will end is uncertain at the moment. All we can say is that the Braille Monitor will keep you informed.

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