Nearly six months after bargaining started, we stand at a crucial turning point.
On Monday, The News abruptly changed course in contract talks by presenting a “package proposal” to The Guild that would end negotiations with a deal that expires July 31, 2015.
The package provides no pay raise or bonus — not a penny.
It withdraws some company proposals, such as changes to the Classified department, and includes a host of measures management advanced during bargaining that it said would provide it with more flexibility, efficiency or savings. The Guild and The News have tentative agreements or were close to agreement on those measures.
So where are we?
First things first: Guild leadership believes the package stinks. But continue reading for a more detailed explanation.
The News on Oct. 27, our previous bargaining session, pitched the idea of a new compensation system in the Classified department that relies more on commissions and less on base pay.
Classified has been the subject of discussions since the start of bargaining. In June, the company proposed outsourcing members’ work in the Classified if changes were not made to the cost of running the department and the revenue it generates. The Guild, in turn, proposed creating a collaborative forum to explore ways to improve the efficiency of the Classified department.
We left the late October meeting with the impression from The News that the company would next present a detailed proposal for how a new compensation system would work.
Instead, management arrived with its package proposal that leaves Classified as it is, along with a contract that expires in less than a year. Until this point, management had put a two-year deal on the table.
News negotiators said they did not see much potential for success in the creation of a collaborative forum to negotiate changes in Classified and also decided to abandon in these contract talks any attempt to negotiate changes at the bargaining table.
What else is in the company package? The News wants us to finalize tentative agreements and other issues we were close to reaching agreement on – all of them company proposals. They include:
- Codifying, as a template for future situations, the terms of the outside media agreement for Guild employees along the lines of the agreement known informally as the Bucky-Sully agreement approved last year.
- Amending of News policy that will impose stronger language on the timely filing of employee expense reports.
- Creating a new position known as News Aides in response to several management proposals for more news content at a lower cost. One of the News proposals called for the use of freelancers to cover local government and school board meetings in more areas, and the other sought to allow Guild employees in another job classification to perform some work of reporters at a lower pay rate.
- Giving management greater ability to review situations when permission was previously granted for an outside activity, but a potential conflict of interest arises,
- Creating a cellphone stipend that pays a portion of reporters’ cellphone bills instead of meeting the contractual requirement to supply necessary working equipment.
- Standardizing trial periods for new Guild members.
- Shifting to a calendar-year basis for calculating vacation.
- Allowing two excluded editors to work on the same shift on the news desk.
A reminder to all Guild members to prepare for a series of actions to make sure that the company understands our position.
We are asking all Guild members to wear a sticker Monday, the date of the next scheduled bargaining session, proclaiming to management that we deserve a raise. There will be balloons on Tuesday with a similar message.
We know — we’ve done stickers and balloons before. Understand that these actions can be done on short notice. More is in the works thanks to the volunteers on the Guild mobilization committee, who now get a chance to unleash some of their ideas. So, stay tuned and stick together.
The Guild at the start of contract talks proposed a percentage pay raise, but didn’t specify a percent. That’s because negotiation of wages generally occurs at the end of bargaining.
After The News presented its package, which came as a surprise, The Guild bargaining team responded by proposing salary increases of 3 percent a year in a two-year contract.
When asked why The News was unwilling to offer a raise or bonus, News negotiators explained that advertising revenue and circulation continue to decline.
“How does the company give a raise and sustain itself in the long term, the long-term being five years,” said Larry Bayerl, the company’s vice president of human resources and general counsel. “Profits are so thin that losing a major advertiser or two could sink the ship.”
Sales at The News have declined from $108.3 million in 2010 to $95.7 million in 2013, according to annual figures supplied by The News to employees.
Bayerl said profits have remained steady in recent years because of reductions in expenses.
“We empathize with you folks. We don’t know how to grant a wage increase and keep the company solvent,” he said.
How did we respond?
The Guild bargaining team told management that our members have gone five years without a pay raise, and that’s enough. Guild members have told the bargaining team in surveys, meetings and day-to-day conversations that they do not want to go into another contract without a raise, at least not without a fight.
People understand about the uncertainty in the newspaper industry. They take it seriously. They get it. But from their perspective, they need and deserve a raise.
Many of our members live paycheck to paycheck, and they’ve seen inflation eat away at least 10 percent of their paycheck since they got their last salary increase, according to government inflation data.
Over the years, we have repeatedly responded to The News’ financial needs and made a host of changes to give the company more flexibility.
Among other things, Guild members have only had a 1 percent raise since 2009. Full-time district managers took a 10 percent pay cut and others were laid off.
We’ve assisted with a downsizing of The News that has left every department with razor thin staffs. We’ve repeatedly agreed to redesigns of health insurance to control costs.
We have responded to requests from the company for help regardless of the usefulness of the initiatives that were advanced, such as complicated negotiations in recent years over in-sourcing work to Guild departments, including Classified.
Our members have embraced new ways of doing things. They have taken on new responsibilities. They are working harder than ever to produce the product we present on paper and online.
Guild members look around and see that The News is spending money, but just not on them. They see that News profits are lower, but the company is still profitable.
From 2010 through 2013 — four of the five years during which we have not received a raise — The News earned operating profits of $46.06 million and net profits of $21.6 million, according to figures supplied annually to employees by The News. That doesn’t include the profit projected for 2014.
The News also saw relief in health insurance rates for 2015, with premiums increasing by only 0.2 percent. The News in past negotiations has used large premium increases and their potential financial impact on you as leverage to extract concessions from The Guild, a strategy that didn’t work this year.
Employees feel as though they have taken the company’s interests to heart, and they want the company to recognize their contributions.
The bargaining proposals made by The Guild have been modest and realistic. We have spent months working to reach consensus on issues important to The News, including potential changes to Classified, and the job of turning the News Aide concept into a detailed proposal and selling it to our newsroom members.
We don’t see a pay raise as outlandish. Based on the total payroll for Guild employees, every 1 percent increase in wages amounts to a little more than $111,000.
The Guild bargaining team does not believe the package presented by The News is something you folks will ratify. And, we told News negotiators that you are prepared to make your unhappiness known.
Our members want a fair contract, and a fair contract includes a pay raise after five years of nothing.