Jan. 2011: Guild local minutes

President Henry Davis called the meeting to order at 5:39 p.m, Jan. 26, 2011 at One News Plaza, first-floor auditorium.

Motion/Second/Carried Fairbanks/Tan to approve the minutes of the last general membership meeting.

Bargaining outlined

President Henry Davis spoke about bargaining, including the announcement the Executive Committee had approved the bargaining team of Henry Davis, Felice McMillion, Kim Leiser, Jim Heaney and Geoff Nason as well as Tammy Turnbull and Marian Needham.

Davis did not know exactly when bargaining would start; health insurance issues need to be researched, agendas need to be formalized on both sides, and schedules have to be finalized for both sides.

Davis said the key issue would be health insurance – maintaining what we have – while mobilization will be of utmost importance.

State of The News summarized

Vice President for Grievances Phil Fairbanks spoke regarding Tuesday’s State of The News presentations given by Publisher Stan Lipsey.

He went over some of the highlights:

* The News said its operating profit was $16.2 million, up slightly from 2009’s 15.3 million. “I don’t know how many years it’s been since we’ve seen an increase,” said Fairbanks. “That’s good news.”

* The net profit was $8.1 million, actually down from $12.7 million – the explanation given for why operating profit was much higher was that The News is now paying own state and federal taxes; in the past Berkshire Hathaway paid them. That change is due to change in corporate structure.

* “It was a pretty upbeat meeting, relatively speaking, particularly compared to last year,” Fairbanks said. “There wasn’t as much doom and gloom. [Lipsey] was actually pretty optimistic.”

Fairbanks quoted Lipsey as saying: “We had a comfortable profit and we’re very happy with it.”

* The big concern continued to be revenue. Overall revenue declined from $110 to $108 million. Over the last five years, The News’ overall revenue is down $32 million (23 percent) since 2006.

* The revenue is separated into three major categories: Advertising ($73 million), circulation ($28 million), new media ($4.4 million). New media was the only category that was up from 2009.

* In circulation, subscriptions are pretty stable, down less than 1 percent. The problem area is single copy sales, which is down 13 percent. When asked why at the meeting, Rich Williams said, “If I had the answer, I’d be a multimillionaire.”

* Expenses: Payroll has dropped; it was down $1.2 million from 2009, and part of that was buyouts. Fairbanks theorized the company will see more savings from those buyouts this year. Pension and severance were unusually high last year ($4.8 million was cost of the buyouts).

It was a surprise to the Guild – and Fairbanks said he thought it was a surprise to The News – that the company had to pay for pension upgrades in buyouts out of the operating budget and not the pension itself, which is quite overfunded. The News said at the meetings that laws regarding pensions required that money to be replaced.

Fairbanks said that could be seen as a one-time charge. “In reality, you could argue that the profit the company made was closer to $21 million.

* When asked about the future, Lipsey didn’t rule out staff reductions or cuts in personnel, but that those would be last resorts.

General quotes from Lipsey from the State of The News:

“While it’s not rosy, it’s not as bad emotionally as last year.”

“It’s inevitable, if we don’t have the revenue we have to cut.”

* There are worries in advertising due to the closing of Rosa’s, which represents about $1 million a year. Also, Tops – one of The News’ biggest advertisers – apparently has hired a third-party operation to do its advertising negotiating with the aim to reduce its advertising costs.

Bargaining and mobilization presentation

Vice President for Mobilization Sandy Tan, Fairbanks and Davis spoke further regarding mobilization and the upcoming bargaining.

Davis: “One of the keys to our success going forward is depending on you guys, in having a vibrant, involved guild.”

Tan: “On personal level, I’ve sat in on the bargaining process, including when there was that attempted 52 layoffs – and the bargaining process is a difficult, draining time. I was completely blown away by the intelligence, dedication and commitment of our team to what can be a thankless task. I don’t think there’s a group of people more trusted and capable of coming up with solutions at bargaining table.

“But even all their work, while extremely valuable, has not gotten us what we’ve gotten in negotiations. Maintaining our health care, having people leave on their own [through buyouts] rather than getting thrown out on the street [via layoffs] …

“That rests with us, with all of us as rank-and-file guild members.

“Sometimes in house, some times out of house, we will get the attention of not only The News but the community about the struggles we’re facing. We’ll be mobilizing and we’ll be in touch with you through our messenger system and we want you to check buffaloguild.org on a regular basis.

“We don’t know how mobilization is going to unfold this year. It’s likely to be a long process. We’ll start with our standard practices, but I don’t know where it is going to go,

“We’re again looking for your participation – this year more than ever.

“If anyone has issues, questions or concerns, that’s what we’re here for. It’s not up to a handful of us to determine the future of the guild, it’s up to all of us.”

The officers also addressed the health-care clause in the contract which says that unless a new contract is agreed upon, The News agree to pay up to a 5 percent increase in health care. Davis said initially that sounds good, but when you consider the increases in health care costs are going up 12-15 percent per year, “we would impoverish ourselves in just a couple of years.”

Fairbanks: “That clause, and risk it carries, makes mobilization that much more important.”

Davis: “I can assure you that when we’re in negotiations, [mobilization] works. All of those things ultimately have an effect.”

Question & answer session regarding negotiations

When will negotiations start?

Davis: “Likely late February; it is dependent mainly when health care pricing is determined.”

Will there be a salary increase on the board?

Davis: “That definitely will be an issue we will raise.”

How long will the length of contract be?

Fairbanks said you don’t know until the process unfolds: “The last few times, the length has been determined on how much we can save company.”

The company has the money and resources to do right by its employees – these employees are doing more with less and we’ve kept this company competitive – and profitable. How can we get across to them that they have to do right by their employees?

Davis: “You’re right. They have the ability to pay. They are a multimillion dollar corporation and we’re not multimillion dollar individuals. We’ve been very accommodating, and they have a responsibility to not impoverish us.”

Committee reports

Mobilization by Tan:

* On Sunday, Jan. 30 the Guild is hosting a welcome session for part-timers, here in the Auditorium. We’d like to bring this new energy into the Guild and make sure part-timers have some idea of what the Guild is and how we can serve them.

* Magnets are being made for Guild members to display on or near their desks – they have the names of the Guild officers, stewards along with phone numbers.

* The Mobilization Committee is looking to revamp the welcome packets given to new members.

* The Guild Web site will be redesigned and the e-mail blast will be reactivated.

* A flier about the State of the News will be out by the end of this week or early next week.

Fairbanks had nothing new to report regarding current grievances.

Turnbull reported on finances in place of treasurer Kim Leiser; The Guild’s report with the Department of Labor has been completed and its audit was completed at year-end. Leiser is looking to schedule a finance committee meeting in late March.

New business

A member asked about the presentation of the TV columnist in the paper, who is presented with an icon (like News columnists) but is a writer from the Washington Post. He said it was “very bothersome.”

Fairbanks: “We do have a grievance regarding Niagara County coverage involving freelancers and we see other potential violations.”

A member said that the News’ iPad application did not list bylines with stories.

McShea noted that the News’ iPhone ap started the same way but added bylines later on, but it is certainly something to keep an eye on.

A member was disappointed that district managers and classified are not being represented on the Guild negotiating team.

Davis: “The executive committee discussed the bargaining team, and yes, it does not include DMs and classified. Any departmental issues that come up, representatives will be contacted and brought in.

“One goal was to have a younger member involved in the negotiating team in Geoff Nason because we thought that was important for the Guild’s future. The team is the team. We’re going to live with that.”

M/S/C Davis/Fairbanks to adjourn at 6:20 p.m.

Attendance: President Henry Davis, Vice President Phil Fairbanks, Vice President Sandy Tan, Secretary Keith McShea, Tammy Turnbull, Pat Gormley, Dick Fay, Brian Meyer, Susan Kelley, Geoff Nason, Aaron Besecker, Tricia Clark, Beverly Gwiewecki, Carol Jones, Felice McMillion, Mike Harrington, Bruce Andriatch, Charlie Specht, Miguel Rodriguez, Cynthia Linville, Gerri Goodwin, Jay Rey, Scott Scanlon, Scott Johnston, Dick Baldwin, Christina Wilemski, Terry Lew, Katie Skorupa, Vince Chiaramonte, Jack Weibel, Matt Spina, Matt Gryta, Jim Wojtanik.