Officials of the Baltimore Sun recently affirmed what they said is a standing rule that allows law enforcement authorities to search employes' desks and lockers, prompting the local unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild yesterday to say it will investigate the policy's legality.
In a one-page bulletin sent to the 598 guild-covered employes, unit chairwoman Connie Knox said that the union will "assess whether our constitutional and/or contractual rights [would be] violated by . . . a search" for illegal drugs, liquor or weapons.
A company memorandum, dated Jan. 23 and signed by human resources director Sandra Gill, outlined the search policy, which included a list of the types of behavior that are not permitted. A second memo, drawn up by Richard Basoco, senior vice president of A.S. Abell Publishing Co., was circulated about a month ago and also said that searches might be conducted in connection with the enforcement of company policies.
The Abell firm publishes the Baltimore Sun, the Evening Sun and the Sunday Sun. Baltimore police spokesman Dennis Hill said the firm has cooperated with law enforcement officials in the past for gambling raids on its property.
Gill's memo was not a response to an incident in the building, company spokesman Gerry Smolinski said. Guidelines were drawn up after Gill's department received "several inquiries regarding employe conduct" in the downtown Baltimore building, the memo said.
Washington-Baltimore Guild administrative officer Dorothy Struzinski would not comment on the union's position on the search issue because, she said, the matter may be subject to negotiations.
Jack Landau, director of the Washington-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said that if no "zone of privacy" is agreed upon by employes and management, the company is probably within its rights to invite law enforcement officials onto its property.
"The general assumption in the newspaper business is that your desk and files is your zone of privacy," he said. "No one, including management, has the right to search."
But, he added, management has the right to change rules or policies.
Michael Wentzel, an Evening Sun reporter and union shop steward, said yesterday that there has been little reaction to the latest company pronouncements.
Maintenance employes who have lockers that are often secured with privately purchased locks would be most directly affected by the search policy, Wentzel said, noting that he has received a few complaints from blue-collar employes.
In the newsroom, he said, the potential effect of searches "hasn't dawned on anybody yet."