Company Adds Detail On Sweeping Proposals - Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #3

Tuesday’s meeting between the Guild bargaining team and the company continued to focus on company proposals. In some areas the company team brought forward the first details regarding specific changes they are seeking. In other areas they provided additional information and reasons for their stated goals, or went back to clarify their original proposal. The Guild bargaining team continued to press for the specific reasons behind the changes the company wants: What is the particular problem that a change is intended to fix? How will this make for a better business operation? How will it save the company money? Why can’t the same goals be accomplished under the existing language of the contract?

As you might imagine, the responses we received varied a great deal in both detail and persuasiveness. The items listed below cover the major topics. We are presenting them here mainly to outline our understanding of the company’s position. We have not agreed to anything, and continue to have questions and concerns about all of them.

Outside activities The company team let us know that they were reconsidering the use of the word “approval” with regard to outside activities, indicating that some form of prior notification might be sufficient. However, they did not present any modified language, so we don’t know if they have in mind something that is materially or practically different from prior approval.

Online/print newsroom jurisdiction Based on the examples provided, the company’s vision of shared print and online work in the newsroom appears to involve two main “flows.” In the main online-to-print-side “flow,” the Guild desk unit would assume more responsibility for editing and managing the online platform, similar to what is already taking place through the “visiting producer” program. (Nothing in the contract prevents this from happening now, as the “visiting producer” program itself shows). In the main print-to-online-side “flow,” the company wants to permit the use in the print edition of written and graphic material created by online, non-Guild employees. This is not currently permitted by the contract, and would constitute a major change in jurisdiction.

Home delivery changes The company added significant detail to their plans for Home Delivery. After reviewing their comparison of costs at other papers, the company team gave us a revised savings goal. It is now in the area of 20 percent of total cost, as opposed to the 25 percent previously estimated. We also received some numbers on the total cost of the Home Delivery operation. However, we did not receive any comparison for the cost of the specific parts of the operation performed by Guild staff, so we don’t yet know exactly how much of the company’s higher overall cost level can be identified as “our share.”

In considering ways to bring down Home Delivery costs, the company is focused on two broad options. One is a slimmed-down version of the current system, in which the overall number of Guild Home Delivery staff would likely be reduced but not eliminated. The other option is a so-called “agency” or “dealership” model, in which the Home Delivery operation would be sub-contracted to a number of non-employee dealers, who would then sub-contract their own teams of newspaper dealers. This would effectively eliminate all Guild jobs in Home Delivery (approximately 45 to 50 positions). The company team emphasized that they have not committed themselves to either model, but are evaluating both based on total overall cost.

Incentive programs Currently we have language in the contract that protects the minimum amount of incentive money available for those positions that have incentives as part of their compensation. The company has proposed to strike that language, and assume total control of all forms of incentive pay. The company team confirmed that while they might increase incentives for some positions, they would likely also reduce or eliminate them for others. This is clearly of concern because the current wage scales for many positions have been premised on the existence of a minimum level of incentive compensation, and we don’t know how much, if any, of the lost incentive would be made up in the form of regular pay.

Seniority The company wants more control to designate people for layoff out of seniority order. The stated goal is “to protect and retain current skills, abilities, and relevant experience.” As with some of their other proposals, they outlined a number of ways they might go about this: an exception list, which would set aside a certain number or percentage of people in each classification; a sub-division of major classifications into sub-classes (silos) each of which would be considered a separate layoff category; or the use of a purely internal evaluation process, which would not be subject to grievance or arbitration by the affected individuals.

All of these proposals involve major changes with enormous implications for many different individuals and the Guild unit as a whole. Many of them strike directly at the fundamental protections of our union contract. Your bargaining team is actively interested in your feedback on any and all of them. While we hope to find common ground and to forge real solutions with the company, we are committed to protecting and advancing the core interests of all our fellow Guild members. Please share your voice.

Present for the Guild: Ralph Erickson, Karl Neice, Phil Kearney, Darryl Sclater, Darren Carroll.

Present for the Times: Mike Shepard, Martin Hammond, Valerie Inforzato, Leon Espinoza, Mike Sheehan, Janice Vallin.

We will meet again with the company today, Thursday, Jan. 24.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please email Administrative Officer Darryl Sclater at, call the Guild office at 206-328-1190, or contact one of the Guild bargaining committee members.

Posted on January 24, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.