INITIAL PROPOSAL RESPONSES AND QUESTIONS
Yesterday, your Guild bargaining committee completed our fourth session meeting with representatives from Seattle Times management.
The two sides have spent the last several meetings asking questions about each other’s opening proposals, and providing initial responses. At this point, the company has provided a full initial response to the Guild’s proposals. We are still working our way through the company’s proposals, as we try to get a clearer understanding of them.
To put it mildly, the Times was unenthusiastic about most of the Guild’s proposals. Overall, the reaction and specific responses were negative. However, in some areas the company acknowledged our concerns, interests, and goals, and seemed to leave the door open for further discussion. It is not yet clear whether we will receive any specific counterproposals.
One area where we received a clear and explicit “no” was on our request to resume participation and accrual on the frozen company pension plan.
Because of the importance of this benefit, we are carefully reviewing the numbers being presented to us by the company. The company’s main argument against unfreezing the plan is that the plan continues to be underfunded, just in terms of having enough money to cover benefits earned in the past.
The company has been making contributions to plan, to fund the existing benefits already accrued, as part of its legal obligation to bring the plan up to fully-funded status. Based on actuarial projections, the company will likely need to continue to make payments into the plan well into the future. The payments into the plan over the last several years, and the funding status of the plan, are matters of public record.
As it so happens, the only clear “yes” we received from the company was on an agreement to remove some outdated mandatory-retirement retirement from the contract.
We did get some good questions and have some good discussions with the company about our proposals covering scheduling and short-notice changes to schedules, parking and commuting issues (including problems of cost, access, and safety) and safe working conditions.
The Guild also began asking questions and trying to get more information about the company’s proposals.
In response to the Guild’s request, Times management provided us with details of the bid they have received from an outside, third-party vendor to outsource advertising design work currently performed by Guild members. We are reviewing that information very carefully.
On the company’s other big outsourcing proposal, covering Home Delivery, we have received very little specific information so far. However, the company has promised to provide us with more details on that by next week.
One area where the Guild and the company have directly opposed proposals is reimbursement for cellphone expenses.
The Guild proposal is that the company should continue to provide any devices or equipment that it regards as mandatory. If an employee prefers to use a personal device, such as a smartphone, and the company agrees the device is compatible with the job, then the employee can receive a monthly stipend to cover business use of the device. However, it remains the employee’s choice on whether or not to use a personal device for work.
Because of the rising cost of smartphones and the need for bigger and more expensive data plans, the Guild has proposed to increase the monthly stipend from $50 to $85, and to make provision for reimbursement of work-related data-overage charges.
From its side, the company has proposed to flip the entire arrangement on its head, and allow the company simply to require someone to have a cellphone, as long the company agrees to pay the same rate of $50 per month.
At the bargaining table, the company has said that it thinks $50 per month is still reasonable, and rejected the Guild’s proposal for data-overage reimbursement on the grounds that it would be too difficult to determine whether a person went over because of business or personal use.
From the Guild side, we have argued that $50 doesn’t realistically reflect actual costs, particularly for up-to-date smartphones. We also argued for the principle that the company has an obligation to provide equipment if that equipment is mandatory to the job. As a practical matter, we asked what limits could be placed on the required capabilities of devices that employees could be compelled to provide at their own cost, and who would get to decide whether or not a given smartphone or data plan met the company standards.
The company has said they will review what they think are the technical requirements on equipment for a given job, and give us a further response.
For the moment, the Guild and the company continue to have exactly opposite ideas on this subject.
The Guild and management bargaining teams will meet again tomorrow, Friday, March 4, from 9 a.m. to noon.
Guild Bargaining Committee: Phil Kearney (Advertising), Rob Davila (News), Barb Heller (Circulation), Darryl Sclater (TNG)
Any unit member with questions or concerns about any of these proposals can talk with one of the Guild committee members or contact the Guild office. (FYI, for News staff, Rob Davila will be on vacation through next week; all other committee members will be available in the meantime.)