Tentative agreement reached: One-year deal protects contract and health coverage

The Guild and The News reached a tentative agreement late Thursday afternoon that maintains fully covered health insurance coverage, provides a modest cash bonus and leaves virtually all benefits and protections in our contract untouched.

The tentative, one-year agreement provides a cash bonus of $400 for part-timers and $300 for full-timers. The deal, which must be ratified by Guild members, was unanimously endorsed by the bargaining team.

“The tentative agreement does not include a pay raise, and that is disappointing,” said Guild President Henry Davis. “But it is a good deal considering the financial state of The News and the newspaper industry.”

Unlike past years in which the Guild was forced to beat back numerous adverse proposals from management, resulting in extensive mobilization and job actions by members, this year’s negotiations were marked by a largely drama-free discussion of a few key issues on both sides.

“These negotiations were our first with the new publisher and human resources director,” said national Guild representative Marian Needham. “If the approach they took to these talks is indicative of what we can expect in the future, the change provides a distinct improvement in the process.”

The Guild accepted the idea of transitioning in 2014 to a combined health insurance pool for all News employees that will offer an assortment of health insurance plans from which eligible employees can select coverage.

The Guild health plan in the new arrangement would be substantially equivalent to the current Guild plan. In one area of improvement, there no longer would be $500 deductibles for hospital stays.

Guild members would receive enough credits to buy the benchmark Guild health plan. They could also buy lower-cost health plans and allocate the unused credits to obtain other benefits, such as life insurance, or they could convert the unused credits into cash reimbursements in their paychecks.

The News estimates Guild members who buy down to the least-expensive plan will save as much as $1,600 annually on a single plan and $4,400 on a family plan. Stepping down to a slightly less expensive plan would save about $444 for single coverage and $1,231 for family coverage.

It appears likely that the new insurance arrangement would require Guild members to join a different insurer – likely Univera Healthcare – based on the bids for the company’s business.

Univera is affiliated with Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield in Rochester, so the network of hospitals and doctors members are used to would remain substantially the same. Even with the change to a different company, the scope of coverage in the new base plan and required co-payments will remain substantially the same as in the current Guild plan.

The bargaining team successfully pushed back against a proposal that would have given management discretion to select the network of providers for the combined pool’s health plan choices.

The company plans to transition to a selfinsured health plan, saying that its timetable is 2015. The tentative agreement requires The News to negotiate all mandatory items of bargaining related to the implementation of a self-insurance plan.

On wages, the Guild made several proposals, starting with a 2 percent raise in a two-year contract.

The News adamantly insisted on no raises of any kind and a one-year contract extension that avoided discussion of any other economic issues.

Management said The News projects a 2013 year-end profit of $6 million to $8 million, which reflects a trend of continued declining revenue.

The final signing bonus arrangement came after a back-and-forth progression of different bonus proposals between The News and The Guild. Although management was originally dead set against providing a bonus of any kind, the bargaining team held firm to its position that a reasonable cash bonus be offered, particularly for part-timers. As a result, based on what The News was finally willing to spend, part-timers would receive a slightly larger bonus than full-timers.

Full-time Guild members benefit from the continuation of comprehensive health coverage.

Moreover, the value of that coverage in dollars is increasing. The larger bonus for part-timers, who don’t get health insurance, seemed more equitable in the context of these contract talks.

As part of this agreement, the company insisted that the Classified Systems Coordinator position be excluded from Guild jurisdiction when the current, incumbent employee vacates that position in the future. The bargaining team agreed.

The tentative agreement will be presented Monday at a regular meeting of the Guild Executive Committee. We will also schedule informational meetings for all Guild members, as well as a ratification vote. Stay tuned for more information regarding dates and times.