Talks reach turning point on wages

Feb. 16, 2015 — There is almost always a crossroads in bargaining, a time when Guild members are asked to fold their cards and settle or up the ante and continue the fight.

That time is now.

In the more than five years since our last raise, The News made $56 million in operating profit and $28.4 million in net profit. Not bad for a company claiming it’s too poor to provide raises for its employees.

But after eight months of bargaining, The Guild and The Buffalo News remain far apart on one of the union’s primary demands – a pay raise. Even now, dozens of meetings later, management’s answer to our request for fairness and equity is a resounding “no.”

Our push for a raise also comes at a time when The News is seeking financial concessions, including a cap on its health insurance costs by 2016.

Management’s response is difficult to understand, never mind justify, given the 56 million reasons why we deserve a raise.

Over the next few weeks, the Guild will unveil a mobilization strategy that will, unless the company’s stance changes, lead to a public campaign. That means leafleting public events, staging byline strikes and conducting informational picketing in front of the building.

That is the message the Guild bargaining team delivered to management’s bargaining committee Thursday. Forget the fact that we’re all working harder than ever. Forget that we’re the ones who get the paper out each day. And forget what we all know — this five-year pattern of wage stagnation is unsustainable.

For just a minute, focus on one thing – The News is making money. OK, maybe not as much as in years past, but it made $9.7 million in pre-tax profits last year and reported an operating profit margin of 10 percent.

Larry Bayerl, the company’s vice president of human resources and general counsel, said at our most recent bargaining session that advertising revenue and circulation continue to decline, making finances too uncertain to provide Guild employees a raise.

But from our perspective, The News’ bottom line numbers are not the kind that you find at a company unable to provide wage increases.

Even more important, perhaps, this year’s profit came on the heels of an $11.2 million operating profit in 2013, $9.2 million in 2012, $9.3 million in 2011 and $16.2 million in 2010.

Given the size of that profit, it’s hard to imagine why the paper can’t afford a pay raise that would cost them only $92,000 a year for each 1 percent increase in our wages.

“We’re going to continue to talk to The News, but it seems that negotiating at the bargaining table alone won’t get us the contract we want and deserve,” said Guild President Henry Davis. “We need to bargain with the larger membership.”

The good news is we have a say, and we’re not done yet.

Guild members will be asked soon to sign-up for leafleting. Keep in mind, leafleting and all the other public actions by the Guild are done collectively and are legally protected activities.

Recently, our parent union, NewsGuild-CWA in Washington D.C., allocated money to help with the effort. The local also has designated a portion of its defense fund. This insures that tens of thousands dollars will be available to campaign for a fair contract inside and outside the building.

A portion of the money is currently earmarked for radio and billboard advertising and leafleting public events.

The Guild never enjoys taking this step and doesn’t do it easily. It has been nearly 10 years since our last public campaign and we know there are Guild members who are new to these types of job actions and may find them unsettling. We also know that, given the paper’s numerous challenges, a very ugly public fight should be a last resort.

Having said that, we know Guild members and their families are hurting financially. We also know that five years without even a cost of living raise has left them wondering if there will ever be another bump in their wages. The time has come to help influence The News to remedy that situation.


Get more contract information at meetings

It’s time to talk with you. The Guild will hold two local meetings at noon and 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, in the first-floor auditorium. Members of The Guild bargaining team and mobilization committee will be there to provide a status report, hear suggestions and answer questions. We strongly encourage all Guild members to attend.