Talks continue as contract expires

This Sunday, July 31, the Buffalo Newspaper Guild’s contract with The Buffalo News expires.

For that reason, we ask all Guild members to wear black on Friday as a reminder of the challenge ahead and our united resolve to stick together to achieve our goals, including affordable health insurance and wages that offer a reasonable standard of living.

While it is a moment that should be noted, it is not a date that should cause Guild members any immediate heartache. All the terms and conditions of our current contract will remain in full force and effect while we bargain a new contract.

However, there is a date that holds much more practical meaning – Jan. 1.

Under a clause in our contract, the News will no longer have to pay the full cost of our base health insurance plan starting on that date unless The Guild and The News negotiate an alternative agreement. If we don’t obtain a change in the clause or an alternative arrangement, the amount Guild employees pay for insurance will quickly reach thousands of dollars a year, then tens of thousands.

“We need to take seriously the expiration of the contract. But what’s important now is that we methodically go through the contract issues at the bargaining table to reach a new agreement, and we’re doing that,” said Guild President Henry Davis.

The News and Guild began negotiating later than usual after the company sought a postponement in bargaining until after the first quarter of the year. In addition, it became necessary to address a host of issues related to the current voluntary separation offer at The News.

Negotiations between the Guild and management started in May and are continuing. The parties have scheduled bargaining dates through the end of August and will continue to work diligently toward reaching an agreement.

“The contract has an evergreen clause that keeps all terms of the contract in full force, even after July 31,” said Marian Needham, the national union representative working with the local bargaining team.

While the evergreen clause gives either party the right to cancel the contract, it requires 60 days advance notice. Even then, federal labor law requires that the vast majority of the contract terms remain unchanged while bargaining continues.

Among other things, the Guild bargaining team on July 5 proposed a redesign of health insurance that preserves affordable coverage for members while lowering the cost of insurance premiums for The News. The proposal calls for moving to a “low-deductible” health plan that requires some cost-sharing by participants but not premium-sharing. Details were published in the last bargaining bulletin and are available here.

The Guild and The News also agreed this week to an arrangement that, at management’s discretion, will allow newsroom bargaining unit members who take the pension enhanced buyout currently being offered by The News to return to work as part-time employees.