Cutting To the Chase In Home Delivery - Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #5

We spent most of yesterday’s bargaining session talking about the company’s desire to make radical changes in the Home Delivery department. The company has told us that their overall home delivery cost is 20 to 25 percent higher than at comparable newspapers. The estimate provided to us has varied. We are having some difficulty confirming and breaking down the cost figures, as they derive from various surveys provided to the company by various consultants. While the sources are said to be comparable, we don’t have any detail on how many different newspapers were surveyed, where they were located, and whether they included both union and non-union employers.

Beyond this, it is important to note that Guild-represented employees represent only a small part of total Home Delivery cost. The Guild represents “field staff” who oversee and support the independent carriers who actually deliver newspapers to customers’ homes. Guild-represented field staff comprise only about one-sixth of total Home Delivery costs at the Times. The other five-sixth’s of total cost comes from things like warehouse rentals, warehouse staff, management, and payments to the independent carriers. What we have not been able to establish is whether or not the already small portion of costs represented by Guild employees—the “field staff” portion of the operation—appears to be significantly out of line compared to other newspapers. The sources on which the Times is relying apparently do not provide a breakdown to that level of detail. So we really don’t know if it is the Guild share of costs or other costs that are contributing too much to the overall “20 to 25 percent” of excess costs.

Nevertheless, the company has clearly indicated that the cost of Guild-represented field staff is an area where they want to save money. To do that, they suggested moving to what is sometimes referred to as an “agency” or “dealership” model for Home Delivery. Effectively, this is a form of outsourcing. As you probably will not be surprised to hear, Guild members in Home Delivery indicated a clear preference for keeping their jobs and work within the company, and remaining company employees with wages and benefits under the Guild contract. They did not indicate a desire to see their jobs outsourced.

Having settled that point, we have moved on to discussions with the company regarding the if, how, and when of finding further savings under an “employee-based” field staff model: we are trying to establish if their expectation of savings is reasonable (based on the cost of “our” field staff, as opposed to their other costs); how any savings might be implemented, in terms of the impact on jobs and benefits; and when any possible changes might be implemented, in terms of a larger plan with a longer time frame affecting all the other parts of the Home Delivery operation as well.

It is worth pointing out that the Home Delivery department has been subjected to sustained workforce and hours reductions over the last several years, including most recently the elimination of seven Assistant District Adviser positions just last month. We estimate this latest reduction by itself reduced the cost of the Guild field staff operation by 6 to 7 percent, in terms of wages and benefits.

While the company has said that they are seeking input from the Guild on how to proceed, they have not been terribly clear about their priorities in terms of the effects on operations and customer service. Both sides at the table have acknowledged that major cuts in Home Delivery, either in the Guild area or anywhere else, would inevitably have a negative impact on customer satisfaction, and potentially on circulation and revenue. It would seem to be best to phase in any changes over time so as to minimize any disruption of service and revenue. Going forward, what we hope to be able to find is some larger Home Delivery model that is potentially less expensive, but that minimizes disruption not just for customers, but also for Guild members, and in fact accomplishes the one at least in part by accomplishing the other.

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 meetings with the company is Thursday, Feb. 7.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, 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 February 6, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.