Company's Revised Proposals Show Some Movement -- Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #13

Our two days of bargaining with the Times last week involved a fairly full round of back and forth exchanging of proposals and counter-proposals. We reached tentative agreements on several issues, and were encouraged by some fairly significant moves made by the company team. However, almost all the major issues remain on the table, and the degree to which the company moved varied quite a bit from one area to another. On some issues they did not move at all. While we are generally encouraged, we see quite a bit of work still to be done, and welcome continued input from the membership as we try to narrow down the number of outstanding issues and the distance between the Guild and the company. In the completed column, we reached tentative agreements on an updated Photographers’ Equipment Plan and an increased transit pass subsidy. The Equipment Plan should provide some modest additional protections and benefits for photographers using their own equipment. The transit pass language doubles the existing annual subsidy, and while it still remains modest at $200, it adds the subsidy guarantee to the contract.

We also reached tentative agreement on arrangements to share work with unaffiliated online staff in the areas of graphic design and ad sales support, subject to specific limits that keep the relative Guild and unaffiliated staff in balance.

In several other areas where the company has proposed sharing work between Guild and unaffiliated staff, we remain concerned about the potential effects of the company proposals. In the newsroom the company has proposed allowing unaffiliated online staff do up to 10 percent of Guild print-related work. In ad sales, they have proposed permitting unaffiliated online sales staff to handle up to 10 percent of all print ad sales. Both of these proposals were step-backs from previous proposals to allow 15 percent in each area, and were therefore positive.

However, it still seems to the Guild team that these numbers remain very large in terms of the specific needs the company has expressed, and the current relative staffing levels between Guild and unaffiliated. (For example, in the newsroom there are currently 7 unaffiliated online rank-and-file staff, compared to approximately 160 for the Guild.) Unlike the agreements we achieved in graphic design and ad support, the company proposals here do not set a specific ratio between Guild and unaffiliated staff. Instead, they only set limits on work or total sales, to which staff levels could presumably be adjusted after the fact.

Further, we remain unclear on exactly how shared work would be tracked in the newsroom. We are not clear if hours of work would be counted, or the volume of content produced for the print edition, or how one measure might potentially be combined with the other.

In the area of advertising sales incentives and commissions, the company made a very welcome change when they moved away from their previous demand to assume complete control over all incentive and commission plans, which could then be revised or eliminated at will. Instead, for sales staff and circulation staff, they proposed guaranteeing a base pool of incentives, which could then be redistributed by the company within a given job classification. We are analyzing these proposals carefully to see how they could affect different groups and different individuals with groups. However, for several non-sales positions in the Sales and Marketing department, the company is continuing to demand the right to eliminate current incentive plans, if and when it judges them to be no longer “appropriate.” These positions are currently occupied by about two dozen mostly lower-level Guild staff, and incentives currently make up a major portion of their pay. While the company says it has no “immediate” plans to remove the incentive payments, the Guild team remains very concerned about the lack of security for these members as far as what might happen to their pay in the future.

Another welcome move from the company side was the dropping of their demand for full control over all benefit premiums. Instead, they proposed insertion of an option to change, if necessary, the current employer/employee percentage cost-share on employee medical coverage from 85/15 to 80/20. It was welcome that the company proposed both a set figure, as well structured it as a future option rather than an immediate change. However, the Guild team also remains focused on concerns from the membership about the cost-share on family coverage, and we are continuing to seek a set number for the premium share there as well.

The company made a slight modification to their proposal on outside activities. Instead of requiring prior “permission” for any outside work, they proposed language requiring prior “notification.” In practical terms, we are not sure that there is any real difference between the proposals.

From the Guild side, we requested that in the interests of furthering negotiations, the company side withdraw their proposal to create a “Sports Silo” within a number of newsroom job classifications. The company refused to do so, and reaffirmed their commitment to the proposal.

We also reduced our base wage proposal, lowering it to a stepped set of pay increases of 2 percent, 2.5 percent, and 3 percent over the term of the contract.

The company held on to their proposal for a 1 percent one-time bonus payment in the second year of the contract, but did agree to convert their proposal for a merit pool in the third year to a 1 percent across-the-board pay increase.

We are also continuing to work with the company on a transition plan to achieve what the company believes will be significant cost savings in the Home Delivery department through the introduction of outside dealerships. The company initially proposed 13 weeks of severance and payment of 50% of COBRA medical coverage for any employees permanently losing their jobs during the transition. We countered with a proposal for 39 weeks and full payment of COBRA. The company then raised their offer to 20 weeks, but did not move on the COBRA. We expect to have further negotiations on these and further details of the transition plan before reaching final agreement.

Any agreement by the Guild on a plan for Home Delivery will constitute a major concession of jurisdiction, and will result in significant job and membership losses. Given the changes in our industry, we are trying to come up with an agreement that will work for the company and for the members losing jobs. However, with a few minor exceptions the rest of the company’s proposals also involve significant concessions by the Guild as well. We continue to look for ways to reduce the negative impact of company proposals on all our members, and to add positive off-sets to balance what we are being asked to give up. Please continue to send us your input, and encourage your fellow Guild co-workers to do so as well.

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, Rob Petersen.

The Guild's next meeting with the company will be Wednesday, May 15.

To submit a question or comment, please email Administrative Officer Darryl Sclater at ao37082@gmail.com, call the Guild office at 206-328-1190, or contact one of the Guild bargaining committee members.

Posted on May 9, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.