Tentative agreement reached

The Guild and The News reached a tentative agreement Friday morning that includes no changes in health insurance, and a cash bonus of $400 for part-timers and $800 for full-timers.

The two-year agreement, which must be ratified by Guild members, was unanimously endorsed by the bargaining team.

“This is a good contract considering the bleak state of the newspaper industry and the economy, said Guild President Henry Davis. “We came a long way since the start of bargaining in May with the threat of layoffs and wage reductions.”

On wages, the Guild made numerous proposals, starting with 2 percent raises in each year. The News adamantly insisted on no raises of any kind – percentage raises or cash bonuses.

Last month, the Guild postponed a “byline blackout” after the company made an initial offer of a cash lump-sum bonus to Guild employees. Negotiations continued over the size of the bonus, which The News eventually increased, and if it would be paid in each year of the contract.

The Guild also proposed giving employees additional paid days off in lieu of a cash bonus in one year, but The News rejected this.

Employees will be able to transfer some or all bonus money into 401(k) accounts, as long as they have an account and have not exceeded the annual contribution limit.

The bargaining committee considers the tentative deal a good one.

“Our major priority was making sure we didn’t go backwards, especially in health insurance, and we succeeded,” Davis said. “That success was the result of a bargaining team that worked hard and the membership’s active role in workplace actions.”

Here’s a summary of other key details in the proposed agreement:

  • Health insurance: The company agreed to keep health insurance unchanged for the next two years, with no employee payment toward the premium. The contract also will reflect benefit changes Blue Cross and Blue Shield has made – all improvements — that addressed government mandates, including mental health coverage and dependent coverage to age 26.
  • Part-time employees: Regular part-timers with at least one year of service can contribute up to $1,500 pre-tax combined to medical reimbursement and dependent care accounts.
  • Parking: Both sides agreed to bargain the effects to Guild employees who park in the back lot if the lease for that state-owned lot is revoked or experiences a considerable cost increase. 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 will receive a one-time amount of $100. The News will maintain access to the dining room and balcony during regular nightside working hours.
  • Quality monitoring: The Guild helped steer a company proposal into a policy in Classified, Accounting and Inside Circulation that focuses on training and skills building before employees can be disciplined for their conduct during phone calls with customers.
  • In-sourcing new work:  The agreement establishes 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. Reporters may be assigned to take a headshot of an individual featured in a story they have been assigned to write.  It strictly 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 also calls for reporters to receive training for taking headshots. The contract already requires the News to provide the equipment for taking photographs.
  • Vacation scheduling: In settlement of a Guild grievance, the vacation schedule for Accounting employees will include a minimum of one vacation slot in each work week.

The tentative agreement is also notable for the company proposals that were ultimately withdrawn. These included proposals to:

  • Give management the right to outsource Guild work and reduce employees who work in the Classified, Circulation and Accounting departments.
  • Establish a second tier of Guild reporters, editors, photographers, critics and columnists paid at half the current wages.
  • Give the company the unilateral right to make changes in parking lot use without bargaining with us, including instituting a fee to park.
  • Eliminate severance to employees discharged for cause.

It is also worth reminding members that contract talks started with management announcing a plan to cut $1.8 million in costs from the Guild. If buyouts did not achieve the savings, News officials said they would seek an assortment of other cost-cutting measures, including wage reductions, fewer paid days off, lower mileage reimbursement, and further reductions in full-time district manager salaries.

And, if all those measures failed, The News said it would consider layoffs targeted in the newsroom.

“On balance, this is a very good agreement for Guild members at The News,” said Marian Needham, the national staff representative who has been working with the local bargaining committee.

“We’re gratified that none of the benefits have been eroded,” she said. “Preserving the health insurance — along with all the other contract benefits — is a major accomplishment in this economy and in this industry. I think most members will see this agreement for the achievement it is.”

Informational meetings and ratification vote

Informational meetings for Guild members will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and noon Thursday in The News auditorium, and a more detailed written summary of the tentative contract will be available. A ratification vote is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16 in the building. Stay tuned for more information.