Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #1

Yesterday the Guild held its first bargaining meeting with the Times in negotiations for a new contract. Representing the Guild unit at the Seattle Times were Ralph Erickson (Circ), Phil Kearney (Adv), Karl Neice (News), Darryl Sclater (PNNG Administrative Officer) and Darren Carroll (Newspaper Guild International Rep).

Present on behalf of company management were Mike Shepard (SVP Operations), Martin Hammond (Director of Labor Relations and HR), Valerie Inforzato (Labor Relations), Mike Sheehan (Circ), Janice Vallin (Adv) and Leon Espinoza (News).

The company spent the first part of the meeting presenting a brief "state of the business" overview and sharing a modest amount of financial information to show us the revenue trends over the last few years and projected revenue for 2013. We then briefly discussed basic ground rules and the schedule for our meetings going forward. Mike Shepard made a point of thanking Guild members for the contributions and sacrifices they had made on behalf of the company over the last several years. He expressed a desire to proceed forward with the current negotiations "respectfully and efficiently."

The Guild went first with its opening proposal. Our initial proposal included both a list of specific items to be implemented and more general areas where we want to open discussion, with the intention of proposing specific contract language later. In terms of specific items, we made a formal proposal to reinstate accrual of benefits on the pension plan, in order to recover the most significant of our concessions. We also proposed to eliminate the spousal surcharge and to guarantee both the 70/30 split on medical premiums for coverage of dependents and the 50/50 split on dental coverage. To protect the continuing qualification of employees for medical coverage, we proposed a guaranteed minimum schedule of 30 hours per week for all Guild employees currently working at or above that level (with an exception for schedules arranged by mutual agreement). In the area of expenses, we proposed full payment of parking costs for Denny employees required to use their personal vehicles for company work.

More generally, we informed the company that we were working on a proposal to clarify and strengthen seniority language, which we anticipated presenting shortly. Regarding incentive plans for both advertising and circulation, we proposed to improve existing language and add stronger protections for members whose compensation depends on meeting incentive goals. On the subject of training, we proposed to discuss the development of online editing and design skills for newsroom staff, and improved knowledge of online products and promotions for advertising sales reps. We also proposed to look at possible additions and improvement to the company subsidy for employees commuting by public transit.

In line with usual bargaining practice, we deferred making making a general wage proposal, pending the company's response to the rest of our proposal, and a look at what the company would be putting forward from its side.

The company's initial proposal was not presented in writing, and for the most part it was laid out only in very broad terms. The proposal included a few specific items, such as a change in the formula used for mileage reimbursement, placing all medical coverage cost splits on a "me too" basis relative to unaffiliated employees, and a waiver of Guild employee coverage under the city's Paid Sick and Safe Time ordinance. In a number of other areas, including seniority, outside activities, sharing of online newsroom work, cross-selling of advertising products, incentive plans, and home delivery cost structure, the company indicated a desire to find more flexible and efficient ways to use resources. However, few if any specifics were provided, and we need to find out more about these proposals in order to establish their actual nature and scope. In all areas, the company stated that their focus would be on goals, and that they would be open to alternative means of achieving those goals. The company declined to present a wage proposal.

The Guild committee will be meeting with the company again tomorrow (Thursday) from 1 to 5 p.m. Our focus will be on finding out more about the company's specific goals in the areas they identified, and the specific means they have in mind to achieve them.

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 January 9, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.