More Info, More Tension - Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #2

The Guild met with the company yesterday in our second bargaining session as part of negotiations for a new contract. The discussion remained courteous on both sides, although it became quite tense at times. We quickly identified a number of areas where the two sides are significantly far apart, both in terms of specific proposals and general approach. Some of our exchanges were very helpful, but we anticipate the need for a lot of hard work and difficult discussions going forward. Our longest, widest-ranging, and most contentious discussion concerned the company’s future intentions with regard to the merging or sharing of print and online work in the news, advertising, and marketing departments. Ad, circulation, and corporate marketing are Guild areas of work, while online marketing is not. In the advertising and news departments, there is what might be called a “one-way door” between print and online: Guild news staff may do both print and online work, but unaffiliated online staff may only perform online work; similarly, Guild advertising reps may sell both print and online ad products, but unaffiliated staff may only sell online ads. These arrangements are based on existing agreements with the company, and already represent a significant compromise on the part of the Guild.

What the company appears to want is to the ability to convert the current “one-way” door into a “two-way” door, and allow for the open and various assignment of print, online, and marketing work to either Guild or unaffiliated staff. We have to emphasize that we can only talk about what the company “appears to want” because very few details or examples have been provided to us, apart from an expressed desire to waive all current restrictions. We pressed the company team for actual examples of real business needs behind the proposal, and a substantive outline of how they anticipated reassigning work. We emphasized that it was incredibly difficult to evaluate and respond to this proposal without a better sense of the company’s practical intentions. The company team indicated that they would bring more information to our next meeting.

The company did provide additional details regarding some of its other proposals:

• Rehire List: Company proposes language to distinguish between permanent and temporary positions when an individual is recalled after being laid off. (Article 6) • Vacation Cash Out: Because of IRS regulations, the company proposes to eliminate the option for part-time employees to cash out vacation. (Article 15) • Mileage Expense: Company proposes to replace IRS rate with a rate of $0.33 per mile, plus a local fuel cost formula. Based on current calculations, this rate would be $0.51 per mile versus the IRS rate of $0.55 per mile. (Article 19) • Outside Activities: Company wants to require prior management approval with respect to work for “any other media outlet.” (Article 22) • Incentives: Company proposes to eliminate the current commitment “not to reduce the potential incentive pay available to advertising and circulation employees under monthly and quarterly incentive plans.” (Article 8.4.1) Also proposes to eliminate the set formula for Commission Sales staff. (Commission Sales Agreement)

Obviously the bargaining committee wants to ask a lot more questions about all of these proposals, in terms of what they will mean if put into actual practice, particularly the implications surrounding outside activities and incentives.

The company also gave us an initial reaction to the Guild’s opening proposal. In some areas, such as incentive goals, training, and transit subsidy, the company team asked a number of questions and made suggestions for more discussion. In others, the reaction was essentially negative. Receiving a negative response were our proposals to guarantee the insurance premium split on medical coverage for dependents (by setting it at 70/30 employer/employee, and eliminating the spousal surcharge), to guarantee dental coverage on a 50/50 basis, and to guarantee a minimum weekly schedule of 30 hours for most positions. Instead, the company reiterated its own proposal to place all medical and dental benefits on a “me too” basis relative to those offered to unaffiliated employees. Regarding our proposal for reimbursement of the full cost of parking at the Denny location for employees required to use their personal vehicles for job duties, the company countered that the current 50% reimbursement seemed a reasonable split of the job-related and commuting costs.

The company’s initial reaction to our proposal to restart the pension was also negative. The company stated that there are significant ongoing costs related to simply maintaining the current earned benefits, let alone adding new benefits. We will be looking at more numbers to confirm the current status and cost of the plan.

We did not have an opportunity to discuss the company’s intentions regarding Home Delivery, beyond the fact that it will be seeking significant cost savings in the department.

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

The Guild's next meetings with the company will be Tuesday, Jan. 22, and 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 11, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.