Company proposal unacceptable

9.27.11 – Any hopes that the Guild could collaborate with The News to help control expenses and increase revenues were dashed Monday.

News management responded to the Guild’s major contract proposals with an unacceptable counterproposal that is all about financial pain and no gain.

Among other things, it opens the door to employees paying much, much more for health insurance. It also would allow The News to force employees to pay for parking, unilaterally reduce or eliminate cafeteria service, and withhold raises – again.

We wonder if The News is serious about making a deal.

One example: The Guild put forth a plan that will save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in health costs. The News grabbed the savings but continues to insist on a scheme that will have you paying thousands and eventually tens of thousands of dollars for your coverage.

It’s an insulting response and a financial disaster for every Guild member.

“The Buffalo News must do better,” said Guild President Henry Davis. “We’ve been reasonable. The offer by the company doesn’t even come close.”

Let’s summarize all we’ve done so far:

The union worked with management to cut Guild payroll and benefits by $1.8 million by helping craft an attractive, pension-based buyout offer that prevented wage reductions and layoffs. A big part of the reason for the buyout’s success was the union’s agreement to allow retiring editorial employees to return part time.

The Guild settled a grievance on the use of stringers that gives the company greater flexibility for covering the news more efficiently with a smaller newsroom.

Guild efforts on health insurance will, if there’s a deal, see the company’s premiums from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York reduced by a ridiculously large amount with no change in coverage for employees.

The Guild, responding to a company demand, worked with management to establish a process to bring in new work to Circulation, Advertising and Accounting from other publications, using new lower-paid employees.

Responding to another demand, the Guild cooperated in changing the paper’s call monitoring policy in Classified and Inside Circulation in a way that focuses on building skills before disciplining employees.

And in response to yet another demand from management, the Guild offered the company a process to allow reporters to shoot headshot photographs.

Hopeful that both parties were in the mood to settle, the Guild last week made its key economic proposal.

Our initial proposal called for a three-year contract with 2 percent wage increases each year. The Guild also agreed to a health insurance plan that would see The News’ insurance premiums decrease by 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, and that would see premiums increase by no more than 12 percent from 2012 to 2013.

We sought the elimination of a disastrously harmful clause in our contract that would shift an outrageous portion of insurance costs onto employees in the event The Guild and The News can’t negotiate an alternative agreement on health coverage in a contract year.

If we can’t eliminate the clause, which we realize will be a huge challenge, we hope to make some progress at getting relief.

The Guild also responded to News proposals regarding the cafeteria and parking lot by giving the company the right to make changes regarding nightside cafeteria service while rejecting the proposal that would force employees to pay for parking.

On Monday, The News responded.

The company offered a two-year contract with no raises and cost-shifting to employees for insurance costs.

The Guild sees sufficient savings from health insurance to justify a three-year deal, but the News says it has “institutional concerns” – mainly the fragile state of the newspaper business – that incline the company toward two years.

The News proposed that employees start paying for health insurance premium increases above 5 percent starting in 2013. This is galling on several levels. It changes our current contractual arrangement, which for two decades has been based on the aggressive efforts by Guild leaders to control premium increases through the careful redesign of our insurance plans.

But here’s the audaciously shameless part: It is the Guild’s own research and dedication, not The News’, that has laid the entire groundwork for the huge health insurance savings from which the company stands to benefit.

Instead of a thank-you, we’re getting a kick in the pants.

For parking and the cafeteria, the News proposal continues to seek the unilateral right to make changes without bargaining with us, including instituting a fee for what the News referred to as “the ongoing privilege of parking.”

Finally, instead of 2 percent annual raises for employees  who are working harder than ever to cover the loss of former employees, the company has offered a two-year contract with no raises whatsoever.

The News’ package “reflects the economic realities of where we think we are and where we think we’re going,” said News Vice President of Human Resources Dan Farberman.

The Buffalo News is projecting a profit of $10 million to $11 million for 2011, officials have said.

The Guild realizes that the newspaper business is in tough shape and that health costs are a problem. That’s why we’ve held to a cooperative strategy in negotiations. But our restraint has not been rewarded. It will be difficult to achieve anything at the bargaining table unless Guild members take action and make themselves heard.

“The News has made it clear that our collaborative approach will not result in a reasonable settlement without a fight,” said Marian Needham, the national union staff representative who has been working with the bargaining team. “We believe the members will think these issues are important enough to fight about.”

The union is well-positioned to demonstrate its displeasure – both inside and outside of the building. We have been actively preparing mobilization efforts for almost a year and are ready to take our message to the public, if needed.

We’re also in excellent financial shape. Anticipating the potential struggle with management this year, we sought and received tens of thousands of dollars from our national union, the Communication Workers of America, to support job actions.

Now all we need is you. Let management know you are prepared to fight for what you deserve.  We are asking all Guild members to wear stickers today to let management know that we stand together for a fair contract. That’s a small start on short notice. Bigger activities are in the works. Stay tuned.