Buffalo News management wants to gut the newsroom and gain the ability to eliminate other Guild represented departments altogether under a contract proposal presented to Guild negotiators Friday.
Management announced a plan to cut $1.8 million in costs from the Guild through staff reductions, and reductions in wages and benefits.
News management said it wanted to first offer buyouts targeted primarily at the newsroom. If the buyouts did not achieve $1.8 million in savings, News officials said they would seek an assortment of other cost-cutting measures, including wage reductions, fewer paid days off, reductions in differentials, less holiday pay, lower mileage reimbursement, and further reductions in full-time district manager salaries.
If the buyouts and others measures failed to cut $1.8 million, The News said it will then consider layoffs targeted in the newsroom.
The Guild estimates 20 to 25 newsroom employees will have to take the buyout to meet management’s $1.8 million goal, further decimating the staff.
All of this is in addition to management’s expectation that Guild employees will transition next year into a health insurance plan that will have them paying ever-increasing amounts for the insurance premium in addition to deductibles and co-payments.
The Guild estimates that take-home pay after thousands of dollars in health insurance costs are deducted each year could begin to fall below the federal poverty level for many Guild members by mid-decade and for everyone in The Guild by the end of the decade.
The federal poverty level is considered the minimum necessary to buy the necessities of life.
“This issue alone is life-altering and not a false alarm,” said Henry Davis, president of The Guild. “The News is imposing a huge and unfair financial burden on our members and their families. It is like a reverse lottery ticket that ensures a much lower standard of living. People eventually will not be able to afford their mortgages or car payments, let alone save for retirement or a child’s college education.”
Yet there’s more. Much more.
The News presented 13 additional proposals, including a two-tier wage structure in the newsroom that would see future employees paid half the rate of current employees.
The company’s design for the other departments is even more onerous. One proposal would enable The News to outsource work in Circulation, Classified and Accounting.
Other proposals ask the Guild to waive the right to bargain changes in cafeteria service and use of the parking lot, and would give the company the right, unilaterally, to reduce or eliminate cafeteria service and to charge employees to park in the company lot.
“The company’s proposals underscore that the publisher and his executive committee have no coherent plan to deal with the paper’s financial challenges,” said bargaining team member Jim Heaney. “The proposal is a blueprint for cuts, cuts and more cuts, ignoring their impact on our ability to publish a quality newspaper and the need for The News to embrace the digital world.”
“At the bargaining table, I called management’s proposal a ‘hospice plan,’ but it’s really more like a ‘mutual suicide pact,'” Heaney said. “Management’s proposal, its obsession on cuts to the exclusion of innovation, would kill The News if enacted. And they want the Guild, for good measure, to agree to a workplace stripped of many union jobs and a bare-bones newsroom that, over time, would be overrun with low-skill, low-wage stringers.”
Other company proposals include:
- Establish lower-paid classifications in Classified, Circulation and Accounting to perform new, in-sourced work from other publications. These new positions would be considered temporary and non-jurisdictional.
- Expand the practice of reporters taking photographs.
- Eliminate severance payments to employees discharged for cause.
- Eliminate limits on managers working on the newsroom news desk.
- Move the chief photographer out of the Guild and move the features editor into the Guild.
- Lower pay for the seven newsroom Guild members working below the pay scale classification for which they are getting paid.
- Move all Guild employees to a direct deposit pay system.
- Allow management to use progressive disciplinary actions based upon observations during call monitoring in Circulation, Classified and Accounting.
- Allow management to perform transfers between work groups in circulation.
- Create a new classification in Accounting of a part-time clerk to be scheduled at management’s discretion without a weekly schedule.
- Allow management to restrict vacations during specific weeks by department and work group.
“I’ve been involved in negotiations with The News for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen a more destructive opening proposal from them,” said Marian Needham, TNG national staff representative. “The Guild approached these negotiations willing to bargain over issues that are important to preserving the paper’s stability and well-being, but we can’t do that if the effect will undermine our members’ well-being or our union’s stability, as so many of these proposals do.”
Overall, News officials said they want to cut $10 million in costs companywide in the next year and a half. The Guild represented $12 million to $13 million of the company’s total operating costs of $91.9 million in 2010, News management said.
News officials said at Friday’s bargaining session that other cost-cutting options being considered include switching to a Saturday tabloid format, having readers opt out or pay an additional fee to receive TV Topics, and severing ties or renegotiating with the Associated Press when the contract expires in two years.
Management also mentioned a few areas it hoped to increase revenue, such as by attracting more commercial printing work and publishing more special sections that attract advertisers.
However, the proposed expense reductions and revenue increases identified so far by The News don’t come close to the $10 million target.
News management said it expected to offer voluntary separations to non-affiliated employees in 2011 or 2012. Officials said they do not anticipate wage reductions to managers or non-affiliated employees, although they added that there will not be salary increases among those groups.
The management team sought input from the Guild to craft more attractive voluntary separation offers. The Guild presented a variety of ideas, including pension enhancements, extended health care coverage, cash and the possibility of some departing employees returning to part-time work, as long as the positions met the provisions of the contract for part-time work, an important jurisdiction issue for The Guild.
News Vice President of Human Resources Dan Farberman said management would move quickly and might have the specifics of a buyout offer within the next week. The Guild’s bargaining team is scheduled to meet The News’ management team again on Friday.