Two Tales Of a Proposal - Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #6

Yesterday’s bargaining session started out focused on the overlap between online and print work in advertising sales, sales support, and graphics. It ended with a return to the very tough issue of big cuts in the Home Delivery department. In between, the company dropped on the table a proposal to sweep away the Guild’s jurisdiction in the newsroom. In the interest of trying to zero in on the company’s actual day-to-day needs in sales and marketing, we shared feedback that Guild members had provided in last week’s unit meetings. As we mentioned in earlier bulletins, the company is insisting on the need for a “two-way door” between print and online. Currently we have an agreement that allows Guild print reps to sell online ads as part of bundled sales, but preserves print sales exclusively for Guild members.

Nothing in the current agreement prevents the company from assigning more online sales and sales support work to Guild members. When we reminded the company team of this, they returned repeatedly to emphasizing the “risk” to the company of putting additional work in the hands of Guild members or adding new members to the bargaining unit; they also reiterated their strong desire to be as “unrestricted” by bargaining agreements as much as possible.

The company demonstrated this desire later in the session, when they put on the table a proposal explicitly eliminating Guild jurisdiction over “traditional bargaining unit work” in the News Department; i.e., the print edition of the Seattle Times. The proposal would allow unaffiliated employees in the News Department to perform any work currently performed by Guild employees. The company team indicated that they will be putting forward a proposal with similar terms applying to the advertising department.

Based on the actual language of the proposal on the table, we have to respectfully disagree with the way it is being characterized in company communications:

    (1) The company has said that they “have proposed a long-lasting agreement that would assure the Guild a more substantial role in the growing amount of digital reporting, editing and news design we are doing.” In fact, what the company has proposed does not “assure” the Guild or individual Guild members of anything. Assignment of all online work will remain entirely and completely at the company’s discretion, to be assigned to or taken away from Guild members entirely as the company sees fit. Further, under the proposal, the same would also now apply to print work.

    (2) The company has said that their proposal “eliminates the need to set up redundant and inefficient systems.” There is not and never has been any “need” for the company to set up any such systems. If they are indeed “redundant and inefficient,” it is because of the company’s choice to set them up that way. There is nothing that has prevented the company from assigning online work to Guild members, or hiring new online staff into Guild positions. The company has explicitly and deliberately chosen not to do so, thereby putting in place and maintaining those systems they now acknowledge to be “redundant and inefficient.”

    (3) The company has said that they have proposed that unaffiliated staff “be able to do some work that ends up in print” and “to let some print and digital sales and sales support work flow more freely.” In actuality, there is no “some” in any company proposal thus far. What they have actually proposed is complete elimination of all restrictions on unaffiliated staff performing any and all “traditional bargaining unit work.”

It may well be that the company’s intentions and goals are more limited than the actual proposals they have presented thus far. If so, we may be able to carefully craft an agreement that meets clearly defined business needs. But it is hard to see where the current agreement is at fault, at least as applied by the Guild. Guild members already contribute enormously to the company’s success in new media and online ad sales. Nothing in our current longstanding agreement has impeded what we’ve accomplished thus far (including the winning of a Pulitzer for breaking news) or stands in the way of our contributing more in the future. The company needs only to let us do the work, without demanding that we whittle away our job protections in exchange.

With respect to Home Delivery, we received a few more details on the company’s cost numbers and cost-saving goals. The case for the excessive cost of Guild staff still seems to us quite thin, and we will be seeking additional sources of comparative cost information. Given this, the devastating cuts the company is demanding seem very arbitrary. We expect a lot more tough discussion and careful review of the numbers on this major bargaining issue.

Correction: In Bulletin #5, we stated that both the Guild and the company “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.” The company told us yesterday that while they agreed that cuts would indeed negatively affect customer satisfaction, they did not believe that this would threaten circulation or revenue. It is their conclusion, based on comparisons with other newspapers, that the Seattle Times can provide substantially lower quality home delivery service without losing additional print subscribers.

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 will be Tuesday, Feb. 19 and Thursday, Feb. 21.

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 8, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.