News issues long list of harsh proposals

June 11, 2014–The Buffalo News on Tuesday issued bargaining proposals targeting job security, health insurance coverage, vacation, sick time, jurisdiction, and other Guild members’ contract provisions and benefits.

Among many controversial proposals, the News said it would outsource Guild members’ work in the Classified Department if changes weren’t made to the cost of running the department and the revenue it generates. But the company made no specific proposals to address those goals.

Despite being told at the last bargaining session about the increasing workload on a smaller staff, the company made only a tacit acknowledgment of the problem by proposing dramatic cuts to sick time and vacation, greater use of stringers and freelancers, as well as having more of the News’ journalism done by management and Editorial employees who are not classified as reporters.

On health insurance coverage, the News wants to cap its annual increases in costs at 5 percent, while reaping the savings should the annual cost of insurance drop.

The more than three dozen proposals from the News — a typical negotiation brings roughly a dozen from the company — included a call for a two-year deal that came with no wage increase.

“The company presented a mountain of proposals that will be tough to climb over to reach a fair deal that can be ratified by our members,” said Guild President Henry Davis. “The proposals threaten an entire department and represent an assault on some of our bedrock contract provisions.”

Among the News’ proposals:

• Cutting employees sick time from 15 days to 5 days per year.

• Capping vacation at four weeks per year for the most senior Guild members.

• Allowing work produced by non-employees for digital products to be used in print.

• Allowing the use of freelancers and stringers to cover local government and school board meetings in more areas, which would alter terms of a deal the Guild struck with the News in 2011.

• Allowing Guild employees in other job classifications to perform some work of reporters at a lower pay rate.

• Allowing the already minimal “advertorial” label to be removed from Buffalo Magazine.

• Increasing the amount of hours a part-time employee could work annually without receiving medical coverage to 1,460 from the current 1,000.

• For couples who work at the News, capping the permitted time off at the time of a birth/adoption of a child at a combined eight weeks, down from the current 16 weeks.

• Providing a yet-to-be-determined stipend to employees who use a personal cell phone to perform their work duties. The contract currently calls for the company to pay for necessary equipment.

• Paying Guild employees who take a different position after their jobs are eliminated the pay rate of their new, lower classification instead of their higher, previous wage.

• Having the ability to use photos taken by Editorial employees, under certain circumstances, for use in print and digital products

• Giving management the ability to enact disciplinary demotions, which may also come with the loss of merit pay and pay at the rate of the lower job classification.

• Lengthening the trial period. Reporters and above would have a 12 month trial, and all others would have a 9 month trial; up from six and four months, respectively.

• Changes to the “outside activities” clause for Editorial employees. Management said it wants a greater ability to review situations where permission was previously granted.

• To codify, as a template for future situations, the terms of the outside media agreement for Guild employees that was approved last year.

• Requiring expense reports to be filed within three months; otherwise there would be no reimbursement.

The News, which last month painted a financial forecast for the company that included a projected decline in annual revenue of roughly $6.2 million, outlined 37 proposals, many of which were conceptual and lacked details.

The News also proposed a series of changes to the contract it deemed to be “housekeeping,” which would delete obsolete portions and update information to mirror current circumstances.

On the proposal regarding Classified work, the company said it was approached by a company called Media Plus, formerly Classifieds Plus, which said it could reduce the News’ costs and bring in additional revenue. The department currently has nine full-time and four part-time employees who are Guild members.

The News, which said it would look at different ways to manage or compensate Classified department employees, said it is willing to work with the Guild to reach an alternative to outsourcing the department.

“Let’s do it internally and let’s do it together,” Senior Vice President Bryan Donohue said.

On another issue, management wants individuals hired and paid as clerks, who earn less than reporters, to perform some reporting tasks, including routine police and court briefs, high school and college sports game stories, and municipal and school board meeting coverage.

“This is just an attempt to be able to produce more content at a lesser rate,” said Larry Bayerl, the company’s vice president of human resources and general counsel.

The Guild’s primary concerns, detailed in a reasonable list of modest bargaining proposals, are ensuring that members receive wages and benefits that reflect the hard work they do to produce The Buffalo News online and in print. Other Guild proposals include improvement to bereavement leave to reflect changes in family dynamics, float days for part-time employees, and easing of scheduling restrictions for family leave.

“Our major message to the company is that Guild members need and deserve a raise and affordable health insurance,” said Davis.

The Guild Bargaining Committee and the News have their next negotiating session scheduled for late next week.