The News will decide how many members can take the buyout.

The Buffalo News’ current buy-out offer is raising a number of questions among Guild members.

Chief among them is how many members in each department will be allowed to take the offer and whether that number will increase because of higher-than-anticipated interest in the pension enhancement.

The short answer to that question is easy. It’s up to the company.

Yes, the Guild played a role in structuring the offer but, once the offer was finalized, the question of how many union members are able to take it is a decision The News and the News alone must make.

“It’s the company’s offer,” said Jim Heaney, a member of the team that offered buy-out recommendations to The News. “Our contract with The News is very clear about this. The News, not the Guild, is the party that controls how many members are able to take the offer.”

The question of how many people will receive the buyout has cropped up in recent days, in part because the number of people interested in the offer has exceeded the number of people the company indicated it would allow to take it and retire.

The News has, in turn, used that interest to seek concessions from the union. The message? Grant us give backs and we’ll let more of your members leave.

The Guild said no thanks. The union’s position reflects the will of the membership, which indicated at a recent meeting it has no interest in reopening the contract at this point in time.

While the union understands the appeal of the buyout and the desire of many of its members to take advantage of it, it has no intention of agreeing to contract concessions that would hurt people who remain at the paper.

“Why would we do this?” asked Tammy Turnbull, the union’s local service representative. “Why would we agree to concessions that would hurt the same people who will be asked to pick up the slack when other members leave.”

A number of members also want to know if the offer is likely to fall to them given the requirement that it be offered to more senior members first.

Frankly, we can’t offer any assurances, but any member who is seriously interested in the offer should let the company know so they are not passed over if and, when, the offer comes to them.

The other question on the minds of members is whether The News intends to offer post-retirement part-time employment to members who take the buyout.

The Guild has no problem with that possibility providing the part-time work those members do is allowed under the contract.

In the newsroom, for example, the union’s collective bargaining agreement is clear on what type of part-time jobs are acceptable and what are not. The contract also includes language that forbids the use of part-timers “where a full-time staffing need exists.”

The union supports the use of part-timers when appropriate, but it will not sit by and allow their across the board use in departments such as Editorial, Accounting and Classified Advertising.

The fear is that, if we open that door in Editorial, for example, we will become a newsroom of part-timers.

Just last week, the Guild learned that newsroom management offered a full-time employee on leave the option of returning to work part-time as a general assignment cityside reporter.

Not only is the company’s action a violation of the contract but a violation of law. Managers made the offer without any consultation or agreement with the Guild – an illegal activity called “direct dealing.”

The Guild is evaluating its options, including a possible Unfair Labor Practice charge against the company.

Despite The News’ action, the union is working to insure that members who take the buyout receive an answer, yes or no, on whether appropriate part-time employment will be available to them.

The Guild also is looking into members’ claims that the cost of post-retirement health insurance being quoted by the company is significantly higher than what active members now pay.

Under COBRA, the federal law governing retiree health care, Guild members are entitled to the same health insurance and at the same cost as active members for the first 18 months of their retirement.