Wages are a sticking point

Both sides closer to agreement on other issues

The News and the Guild on Wednesday traded contract proposals, finding conceptual agreement on many issues, including health insurance.

But wages remain one of the key issues that separate the parties.

The Guild also is still arguing for relief from a clause in our contract that would shift an unreasonable portion of insurance costs onto employees in the event the parties can’t negotiate an alternative agreement on health coverage in future negotiations following the expiration of the upcoming contract.

“We had to make difficult compromises in some areas, but there is also good news potentially, mainly the continuation of our current health insurance. That’s very important,” said Guild President Henry Davis.

Here’s a summary of how the Guild and News have responded to each other on the major issues:

  • Contract period: The Guild initially proposed three years, and The News countered with two years, citing institutional concerns over the fragile state of the newspaper business. There is now agreement on two years.
  • Health insurance: The company, after difficult negotiations that included consideration of moving employees to a different health plan, has agreed in concept to keep health insurance unchanged for the next two years, with no employee payment toward the premium.
  • Part-time employees: Regular part-timers with at least one year of service would be able to contribute money pre-tax to medical reimbursement and dependent care accounts.
  • Parking: A News proposal giving the company the right to impose a parking fee has been withdrawn. In its place is a conceptual agreement for both sides to come together again and bargain the effects to employees who park in the back lot if the lease for that state-owned lot is revoked or changed. Free parking in the main front lot will remain unchanged.
  • Cafeteria:  In the event the News decides to terminate evening food service in the fifth-floor cafeteria, all employees who regularly perform the majority of their work at night would receive a modest, one-time bonus. The News also would continue to maintain access to the dining room and balcony during regular nightside working hours.
  • Quality monitoring: The Guild helped steer this company proposal into a policy in Classified, Accounting and Inside Circulation that focuses on training and skills building before the employer can discipline employees for their conduct during phone calls with customers.
  • In-sourcing new work:  The framework of an agreement is in place 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 initially into Inside Circulation and Classified and Accounting.
  • Reporters taking photos: The Guild limited this News proposal to headshots. The conceptual agreement says reporters may be assigned to take a headshot of an individual featured in a story they have been assigned to write.  The proposal defines a headshot as a posed, non-action, still photograph of a person’s face, typically front-on, taken with a subject’s cooperation, with minimal or no surroundings. It goes on to detail other aspects of what is and is not a headshot. The proposal also calls for reporters to receive training for taking headshots. The contract already requires the News to provide the equipment for taking photographs. Guild research found that headshots accounted for less than 2 percent of the photos credited to staff photographers over an eight-week period surveyed.
  • Severance:  The News withdrew its proposal to eliminate severance to employees discharged for cause.
  • Wages: This remains a key area of disagreement. The Guild initially proposed 2 percent raises in each year of a three-year deal, and The News countered with no raises of any kind. Since then, the Guild has proposed 1 percent annual raises in 2012 and 2013.

“The bargaining committee is really gratified that we have been able to reach an agreement to keep the base-level medical plan paid by the employer, with no changes in coverage. That’s great,” said Marian Needham, the national union staff representative who has been working with the bargaining team. “However, since 2009, employees had only a 1 percent wage increase, and we need to address that.”

All of the items above, as well as the handful of issues that remain to be resolved, represent a package. All the components need to work for a deal to occur.

“We know the economy and newspaper business are going through a tough period,” Davis said. “We appreciate that The News hasn’t yet turned to layoffs and pay cuts, as has happened elsewhere in the industry. All of which is why the Guild has worked cooperatively to help this company save money. We aren’t asking for much – just monetary recognition of the fact that our Guild members are doing more work than ever for this company, yet continue to fall behind every cost-of-living standard we’ve researched.”

The Guild has already helped The News’ save $1.8 million in payroll costs through buyouts. We also calculate the cost for health insurance in 2012 and 2013 will fall $143,595 below what the company would have spent if it applied a clause in the contract that details The News’ health care obligation after expiration of a contract.

The savings the Guild has helped this company find should be shared with employees. Given the $10 million to $11 million in profit the company stands to make this year, that’s what’s fair.

We will continue to actively mobilize our membership until the wages issue is resolved. Bargaining is scheduled to resume next week, perhaps as soon as Monday.

To remind management of the virtue of sharing, we’re asking all Guild members to wear a “$hare the $avings” sticker today to reinforce to management of our desire to see pay improvements.

And as always, this Friday is Black Friday. Please dress for the occasion and stay tuned for other mobilization efforts this week and next.