Progress made on key issues

More work still needed in other major areas; informational meeting Thursday.

9.19.2011 — After a two-week break from bargaining, contract negotiations resumed Wednesday with The News and The Guild making progress on a handful of key issues, including health insurance.

Still, several significant matters remain unresolved for now, and discussions over the next few weeks will be important.

“Hopefully, we can address the remaining issues in ways that are acceptable to both sides, said Guild President Henry Davis. “Hopefully, The News will see that its employees are reeling from staff reductions and other changes, and just want some stability and security. Hopefully, we can avoid the public actions often needed to bring bargaining to a close.”

Management and the Guild are considering promising proposals from the United Furniture Workers Insurance Fund and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York. These include one plan that would maintain our current health insurance coverage.

Related to health insurance, the Guild wants some relief from the harmful clause in our contract that would shift an unreasonable and unacceptable portion of insurance costs onto employees in the event the parties can’t negotiate an alternative agreement on health coverage.

Progress also has been made in other areas of bargaining:

In-sourced work: Much time and effort has been spent on a proposal to establish a process regarding new work that management hopes to attract from other publications, particularly those it currently delivers. The paper envisions attempting to “in-source” work into Inside Circulation, Classified and Accounting departments. Any employees hired under the program would have full contract coverage, but would work at lower wages than regular employees and may be subject to layoff if the in-sourced work was discontinued.

Call monitoring: Both sides have spent weeks on a proposal near agreement for changes in the paper’s call monitoring policy in Classified and Inside Circulation that focuses on building skills before disciplining employees.

In another sign of progress, The News has withdrawn a handful of proposals the Guild considered harmful.

These include giving the company the right to outsource work in the Classified, Circulation and Accounting departments; establishing a new tier among reporters and editors to be paid at half the rate of current employees; eliminating limits on managers working on the newsroom news desk; moving the chief photographer out ofThe Guild; and eliminating protections against the unilateral transfer of circulation B clerks.

This progress follows on the heels of successful efforts by the Guild in the past few months to save the company a tremendous amount of money and give the company more operating flexibility.

The union helped management cut Guild payroll and benefits by $1.8 million by helping craft an attractive, pension-based buyout offer that prevented the need for wage reductions and buyouts.

The Guild and The News also settled a grievance regarding the use of stringers for certain aspects of local news coverage that gives the company greater flexibility for covering the news more efficiently with a smaller newsroom.

And the Guild did an enormous amount of research to lay the groundwork for what are now promising health care options that The News and The Guild are currently considering.

We are down to a handful of basic economic issues — health insurance and wages — as well as a few remaining News proposals.

On wages, we’ve seen little improvement in recent years and continue to fall behind what’s been a fairly modest national inflation rate despite the fact that current Guild members are working harder than ever to cover for the loss of so many colleagues.

In 2008, we received a lump sum instead of a percentage raise. The August 2009 wage increase was supposed to be 2 percent, but we agreed to decrease it to 1 percent and delay the increase to the start of 2010. We received no increase in August 2010.

It’s time we received some real raises.

Management continues to push proposals that would give it the right to make unilateral changes in the use of the parking lot and cafeteria, as well as allow reporters to be assigned to shoot certain types of photographs. It also is seeking to eliminate severance payments to employees discharged for cause, and to alter vacation scheduling processes.

Company officials say they are not currently planning to change the conditions for the parking lot or cafeteria. But the proposals clearly would open the door to allowing The News to charge employees for parking, an idea management has mentioned during bargaining, and to eliminate cafeteria service, particularly at night.

Paying for parking is a hot-button issue with Guild members, especially since so many rely on a car to get their jobs done. The bargaining committee will continue to resist any initiative that could lead to the imposition of parking fees.

The News says it can’t justify the expense of keeping the cafeteria open at night because there is so little business, especially with the downsizing of the workforce in recent years. The bargaining team is not willing to waive our right to bargain changes, but has considered compromise on specific adjustments in service.

“The Guild can understand the paper’s concern that the decreased use of the cafeteria may be an unjustifiable expense,” said TNG National Staff Representative Marian Needham, who has been working with the bargaining committee, “but we cannot understand or accept any scheme that would cause employee parking to become a revenue stream for the paper.”

The bargaining committee will return to negotiationsTuesday andThursday of this week and will have more information to share. Besides, we expect you have questions.

For that reason, all Guild members are invited and encouraged to a meeting with members of the Guild bargaining team to hear the latest update on contract talks and the biggest issues now on the table. Please bring your questions and concerns.

The informational meeting will be held at 5:15 p.m. Thursday, in the first-floor News auditorium. We look forward to seeing you there.