Guild and News outline bargaining goals

May 29, 2014 — The Buffalo Newspaper Guild’s Bargaining Committee on Wednesday outlined its general goals for the upcoming contract negotiations during the initial meeting with News management.

Reinforcing an overall theme that Guild members’ wages and benefits remain of paramount importance in these negotiations, the Bargaining Committee also underscored the burdensome workload with which virtually all Guild members are trying to cope.

“We anticipate a difficult round of bargaining but will make every effort to reach an agreement that is fair and good for our members and The News,” Guild President Henry Davis said in his remarks that opened Wednesday’s session and served to kick off the bargaining process.

The Bargaining Committee told The News’ negotiating team about a variety of concerns resulting from a shrinking staff.

In surveys and meetings, members have told Guild representatives that there is a growing workload and fewer people to complete the tasks. They say they believe the quality of the newspaper has suffered at times in the effort to create and edit more and more content on more and more platforms.

There appears to be a “quiet exhaustion” among Guild members who are facing additional stress, low morale and a feeling of being stretched too thin at work, Bargaining Committee member Mark Sommer told management during the opening session.

Sommer shared a few anecdotes from members, including from individuals who have described the additional stress they now take home. Some have described feeling guilty about taking time off, worrying about the extra work left for their coworkers.

“Quality has suffered and stress levels have soared,” Sommer told management representatives.

After the Guild’s presentation, The News shared some financial information about the company’s revenue and expenses over the first four months of the year.

The News showed a net profit of $2.27 million and an operating profit of $3.47 million for a period ending approximately May 4. Overall revenue was down about $2.07 million, or 6.5 percent, from the previous year.

At this rate, the company projects a loss in annual revenue of about $6.2 million, though it should be noted that the first quarter of the year is traditionally a difficult one for the company and newspapers in general.

Company officials said continued declines in circulation and print advertising revenue remain their biggest fears.

The company cited home delivery circulation numbers of 153,343 for Sunday and 100,193 for daily.

Against a continued backdrop of a dreary financial forecast, The News said it planned to present more than 30 proposals to The Guild. The company’s two main themes for the upcoming bargaining would be “continued cost control” and looking for the “ability to adapt” to the changing environment in the news industry.

The News wants “flexibility” in the contract to deal with the industry’s changing dynamics, officials said.

Some of management’s proposals will be “a pretty big lift” for the parties to deal with, said Larry Bayerl, the company’s vice president of human resources and general counsel.

When asked if the company has considered offering buyouts as part of this round of contract talks, Senior Vice President Bryan Donohue said that while there’s always potential for buyouts to be considered, management has “not actively discussed” them.

“It’s getting harder to identify places to buy people out,” Donohue said.

The company expressed appreciation for the Guild’s willingness in the past to work collaboratively and pledged to pursue that approach as part of these talks.

No official bargaining proposals were exchanged between the sides, a step both parties had already agreed would happen in the next session scheduled for June 9.

Some other newsworthy items also emerged during Wednesday’s discussions:

• The company is looking into the possibility of leasing floors of the building.

• The company has already begun printing between four and five new weekly publications that are part of the Metro Community newspaper group. In total, 24 weekly publications from the Metro group will be printed at The News once all printing has been transferred here. The News anticipates that the new printing jobs will increase revenue in that area of business.