Guild reaches tentative agreement on 3-year contract with no concessions or cuts to wages, benefits

The Buffalo News and the Buffalo Newspaper Guild reached a tentative, three-year agreement on Friday that, if ratified, will result in no wage or benefit cuts and no givebacks. It would also launch a new pilot program that would encourage The News to hire a new classification of editorial Guild members, called “Digital Content Producers” who would produce online-only journalism content.

In exchange, the Guild agreed to no raises or bonuses, and as part of the experimental project, offered to relax its wage scale, probationary period and work shift requirements for the new class of digital-only Guild members.

The two days of formal negotiations, possibly a record in Guild history, was set against a backdrop of both alarming revenue shortfalls for the company and months of informal talks between the Guild and management about ways to keep this year’s bargaining agenda limited, swift and focused on a few key issues.

“Both sides engaged in honest and pragmatic conversations leading up to bargaining,” said Guild President Sandy Tan. “That set the table for realistic expectations and proposals from the very start. I’m grateful for the conscientious efforts made by both sides to keep negotiations grounded and respectful. This was a welcome break from the past.”

While the company was interested in a straightforward contract extension, the Guild made it clear early on that its concerns regarding the company’s use of independent contractors to produce online journalism could not be ignored.

The Guild’s three-year contract proposal asked for a 1 percent raise for each of the first two years of the contract, as well as the elimination of the 5 percent clause in the medical insurance article of the contract. That clause requires Guild members to pay the first 5 percent of any increase in their annual health insurance premium if a new contract agreement cannot be reached before the end of the year in which the contract expires.

The Guild also put forward a detailed proposal for a three-year experimental program that creates a new class of editorial Guild members called “Digital Content Producers.”

The program provides a longer path for these new Guild members to gain both job security and full Group D editorial pay while offering incentives for management to hire Guild members for new digital content areas.

After two days of heavy negotiations over these proposals, the bargaining team determined that neither raises nor bonuses were realistic options without a prolonged battle that could expose the Guild to new and more damaging counter-proposals from management. The Guild also agreed to withdraw its proposal seeking the elimination of the 5 percent clause.

For its part, The News agreed to the Guild’s proposal to create a new job class, Digital Content Producer, as part of a three-year pilot project. These new Guild members may work full- or part-time doing online-only Group D work, which covers reporters and photographers.

A key element of this pilot project is that during this period, freelancers who produce online content may not be used for regular beat coverage, stories with high-anticipated news value, enterprise reporting or subject matter requiring ongoing coverage.

“During the course of these negotiations, the News expressed a real willingness to work and partner with the Guild and that spirit was reflected in their proposal for a three-year contract extension that keeps all contractual rights and benefits fully intact,” said TNG-CWA chief negotiator Tammy Turnbull. “In addition, their acceptance of the Guild’s proposal on Digital Content Producers provides an immediate opportunity for the parties to work together.”

The pilot project expires on July 31, 2021 but may be renewed by mutual consent.

More details regarding the new Digital Content Producer position will be shared at the general membership meetings on Tuesday and in an upcoming issue of the Frontier Reporter.

Finally, The News and the bargaining team agreed to establish a subcommittee to address minor housekeeping issues in the contract language. Final recommendations are expected by Feb. 1. A ratification vote also will be scheduled for next month.

“This is a good deal, plain and simple,” Tan said. “Despite The News’ harsh financial realities, the Guild bargaining team was able to secure a three-year contract with no concessions and a greater foothold in The News’ digital future. What other newspaper unions can say that?”

She added, “Our bargaining team is confident it has negotiated the best possible deal under the circumstances. I would personally like to thank the entire team for the time, brain power and energy they’ve devoted to these negotiations. I’d also like to thank The News’ team for setting a productive tone that should continue to serve both sides well as we face the challenges ahead.”

The Guild bargaining team included Dan Kirchberger, Dave Robinson and Patrick Lakamp from Editorial, Diana Gawron from Inside Circulation, Felice McMillion from Accounting, Guild administrator Kim Leiser and chief negotiator Tammy Turnbull from TNG-CWA.

We’ve hit the highlights, but we encourage you learn more at Tuesday’s meetings and to kick back with some good conversation and food with your fellow colleagues on Wednesday.