Tentative agreement reached

June 22, 2015 — The Guild and The News reached a tentative agreement Friday that maintains fully covered health insurance through 2016, provides cash bonuses and a cellphone allowance, and makes a key improvement in our insurance arrangement in the event of premium increases after the contract expires.

The tentative agreement for a two-year contract through the end of 2016 does not include a percentage pay raise, a disappointment after more than a year of negotiations. Our last contract expired in July 2014.

The tentative agreement provides a cash bonus of $500 for part-timers and $1,000 for full-timers at ratification and $750 for full-timers and $500 for part-timers in February 2016. The deal, which must be ratified by Guild members, was unanimously endorsed by the bargaining team.

“We couldn’t achieve a pay raise despite significant mobilization efforts and proposals by us at the bargaining table,” said Guild President Henry Davis. “But there are a lot of good things here, and we successfully avoided a lot of bad things from moving forward.”

Contract negotiations began more than a year ago with 37 proposals from The News and a handful from The Guild. In addition to Davis, the Guild bargaining team included Aaron Besecker, Kim Leiser, Felice McMillion, Marian Needham, Mark Sommer and Tammy Turnbull. Phil Fairbanks led the Guild mobilization committee.

“What we’re presenting, is the result of hard work by the bargaining team and mobilization committee, as well as the support of so many of our members,” said Davis. “It represents the best we could do.”

Marian Needham, who was recently elected as executive vice president of the national union, characterized the tentative agreement as a good one deserving of support.

“It’s unfortunate that newspaper workers across the country can’t get the sort of wage improvements they deserve, something that reflects the rampant short staffing and amounts of work that have been piled on them,” said Marian Needham, who assisted the Guild’s bargaining committee with these negotiations. “But in the world of recent Guild settlements, this is a very good agreement, and I hope members vote to ratify it.”

Here’s a summary of the major elements in the proposed agreement:

• Health insurance:
1.) The company agreed to keep health insurance unchanged for 2015 and 2016, with no employee payment toward the premium for the base-option health plan.
2.) The News will have the option of self-funding health insurance in the future, but the shift will not change or reduce in any way the coverage provided in Guild members’ current base-option health plan. In addition, a labor-management committee devoted to self-insurance issues will be created that will be open to any Buffalo News union that accepts self-insurance.
3.) The new post-expiration insurance arrangement, a replacement for what’s become known as the 5 percent clause in our contract, only takes effect if we are working with an expired contract in 2017 and go into a new plan year without a negotiated deal on health insurance. In that event, there will be no increase in Newsflex credits unless the annual premium of the base-option plan increases by more than 5 percent. If the premium of the base option plan increases by more than 5 percent, Newsflex credits will increase by the dollar value of any increase in the premium of the base-option plan that exceeds 5 percent. For example, if premiums go up 11 percent in 2017, we will pay the first 5 percent, and the company will pay the next 6 percent – but only in the event we go past expiration without a new agreement on health insurance. This arrangement poses much less potential financial harm over the long term, and it makes sense to cap our obligation if the company has control of premiums under a self-funded insurance plan.

• Cellphones:Employees required by The News to use a cell phone shall have the option of using an employer-provided cellular telephone and plan, or they may elect to receive a monthly cell phone allowance equal to the per participant cost The News pays its cellular provider. The amount was $35 to $45 a month in the fall of 2014, depending on features, the last time costs were checked. The new arrangement applies mainly to the newsroom and does not affect existing phone agreements for other departments.

• News Aides: The News and The Guild will initiate a pilot project creating a new bargaining unit job classification titled “News Aide.” News Aides will assist in creating content for digital and print products in the newsroom, but their roles will be strictly limited. News Aides will be paid $712.50 per week, unless performing Group D work, for which they can be assigned temporarily for a specific project or duration. They may be hired on a full- or part-time basis. The pilot project will last until July 31, 2017, and will not be renewed absent the approval of both parties.

• Classified advertising: The Guild and The News agree to meet during the course of this contract in an attempt to find efficiencies and to increase revenue in the Classified Advertising Department. The News had started bargaining with a proposal to outsource the department.

• Bereavement leave: The agreement provides for paid leave of three days in the event of the death of step-relations, a reflection of changed family dynamics. Similarly, The News agrees to one day of leave with pay to attend the funeral of grand-relatives, as well as to accompany a minor child to the funeral of the minor’s parent or grandparent.

• Part-time hours: The News agrees to provide Newsflex benefits to employees who work 1,250 hours or more in a calendar year, a change from the current 1,000 hours. The News also agrees to provide one float to part-time employees who work 1,250 or more hours in a calendar year.

• Outside media work: The tentative agreement codifies as a template for future situations the terms of a previously negotiated outside media arrangement commonly referred to as the Bucky-Sully agreement, referring to two News sportswriters who have hosted a television show under an agreement between the Guild and the News.

• Outside activities: After issuing consent for editorial employees to provide material to a noncompetitive publication or media outlet, The Guild agrees that The News may review that connection if there is a substantial change in the conditions of the secondary employment arrangement that poses a potential conflict of interest.

• Trial periods: Trial periods for new employees will be uniformly set at six months.

• Vacation: Allocation of vacation will be based on the calendar year, starting in 2016. This will have no effect on employees’ number of vacation days entitled under the current system.

The tentative agreement is also notable for the company proposals that were ultimately withdrawn or substantially changed during bargaining. These included proposals to:
• Cut employee sick time from 15 days to five days per year.
• Cap vacation at four weeks per year for the most senior Guild members.
• Allow work produced by non-employees for digital products to be used in print.
• Allow the use of freelancers and stringers to cover local government and school board meetings in more areas.
• Allow Guild employees in other job classifications to perform some work of reporters at a lower pay rate.
• Allow the advertorial label to be removed from Buffalo Magazine.
• For couples who work at The News, decrease the permitted time off at the time of a birth or adoption of a child.
• Pay 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.
• Have the ability to use photos taken by Editorial employees, under certain circumstances, for use in print and digital products. Essentially, allow reporters to shoot photos.
• Give management the ability to enact disciplinary demotions.
• Lengthen the trial period for new employees.
• Eliminate severance for employees discharged for cause.

Informational meetings

Informational meetings for Guild members will be held at noon and 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 14 in The News auditorium, and a more detailed written summary of the tentative contract will be available. A ratification vote will also be scheduled. Stay tuned for more information.