Posts filed under SEATTLE TIMES

First Glimpse of Company Proposal for Home Delivery -- Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #8

On Thursday the company presented us with a first outline of their “continued employee model” plan for cost-savings in the Home Delivery department. The plan consisted of wage cuts, changes to incentives and goals, new district assignment arrangements, and a number of other changes. There was no breakdown of the specific cost-savings associated with the different elements of the plan. We will be reviewing these carefully before talking further with the company about the plan, or possible alternatives, at our next meeting. The company also continued to dangle their “Agency Option” as well, which would effectively involve outsourcing the entire Home Delivery department. Clearly, any move to substantially reduce costs in Home Delivery will have an enormous impact on Guild staff, as well as on the quality of service provided to the paper’s vital home-delivery subscribers. Of the 18 District Advisers currently working in Home Delivery, twelve have more than 30 years of service with the company. Of 24 Assistant District Advisers, half have more than 20 years of service, and none has less than 15. All four of the Zone Clerks in the department have more than 20 years of service. It is the Guild’s hope and expectation that any cost-savings plan will respect, honor, and reward the service and contribution to the company by these long-standing employees. Further, we are deeply concerned that it not endanger the Seattle Times’ long-standing relationships with its loyal but highly demanding subscribers, on whom we are all ever-increasingly dependent in the evolving world of newspaper economics.

Later in the session, we spent some time reviewing the numerous changes and additions the company is proposing to make to the list of “excluded positions” (specified non-Guild staff) attached to the front of contract. As in past contract negotiations, we noted that the volume of positions seemed excessive and redundant (“bloated” is another term that comes to mind). We anticipate counter-proposing a more modest and appropriate list.

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 is Tuesday, Mar. 5.

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 24, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.

Company Puts Seniority Proposal On the Table - Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #7

Yesterday’s bargaining session was wide-ranging, covering all the departments and a variety of different issues, some very large and others quite small. We received several new proposals and counterproposals from the company and reached tentative agreements on a couple of items. The biggest item came at the end of the day, when the company put their seniority proposal on the table. In previous meetings, the company team had indicated that they might be pursuing a broad and general set of changes to the seniority and layoff provisions of the contract. What they ended up putting on the table turned out to be quite focused and specific. In the newsroom, the company is proposing to add a number of new Sports Department-specific job classifications to the contract. The proposed new job classifications are: Sports Columnist, Sports Desk Editor, Sports News Page Designer, Sports Copy Editor, Sports Reporter, Sports Zone Reporter, and Sports News Assistant.

No other seniority-related changes or additions have been proposed. The Guild committee has asked for a list of the individuals who would be placed in each of the new classifications, so that we can evaluate the scope and impact of the proposal before we respond to it.

The company also presented a proposal for a modest increase to the annual ORCA card subsidy, and counterproposals on applying the grievance process to payment of incentives and adding reference to the City of Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time ordinance to the contract. We reached a tentative agreement on the PSST language and also agreed to the company’s original proposal to update the language of the contract’s Management Rights clause.

As part of our ongoing effort to establish some firm numbers around the company’s proposal for cost-savings in the Home Delivery department, we calculated the department’s per-employee cost and reviewed our numbers with the company team. As calculated from both the company and the Guild side, the total cost of Guild staff (and therefore the Guild share of actual Home Delivery costs) turned out to be a fair bit lower than initial estimates, to the tune of about half-a-million dollars. However, the company is still focused on taking a highly disproportionate share of any total Home Delivery cost savings from the Guild area.

We also sought more detail from the company team about their proposal to assume complete control of all incentive and commission payments, to be added, reduced, or eliminated entirely at the company’s discretion. Along the way, we reviewed the history of the different incentive plans, pointing out that they had been explicitly bargained into the contract in previous years, frequently in lieu of regular wage increases. Since the company already can decide what goals incentive plans are focused on, and what targets need to be reached to earn incentives, we questioned what the company would possibly want to do in the future that it can’t do right now, except to simply reduce or eliminate incentives across the board. The company team acknowledged that they believe there are Guild groups earning incentives where the payments are too high or simply not appropriate for the position, and they may want to change or eliminate them.

Finally, the company indicated that they have been working on a more detailed plan for Home Delivery, and we expect to hear more about that at our next meeting.

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 is 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 20, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.

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.

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.

A Mixed Bag of a Meeting - Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #4

Yesterday’s bargaining session with the company, our fourth, had its ups and downs. On the plus side, the company withdrew its proposal that the Guild waive its members’ rights under the Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) ordinance. Because of this, we will keep the current sick pay system established when the ordinance went into effect last September, and will not revert to the old “Two Percent” attendance policy. This was a welcome change in the company’s position.

We also welcomed the company’s interest in further reviewing the current Orca commuter transit subsidy.

Regarding the pension plan, the company shared some additional financial information on funding costs and plan status, which we will be evaluating further.

The company provided a helpful outline of both current and intended online-related training in both the news and advertising departments. While the company team said they believed they were doing “a pretty good job” in the news department, they acknowledged they were probably behind the curve in advertising, and that it would help sales effectiveness and efficiency to have Guild sales reps fully educated about online products and promotions. However, they also emphasized that they did not intend to make a contractual commitment to training, either in advertising or the newsroom, and reserved the right to select who would and would not be trained in any given area.

Similarly, the company acknowledged a need and a desire to clarify policy around incentive plans and payments. However, they also rejected our proposal to put some additional protections for incentives in the contract, indicating they preferred to deal with any problems “on a case by case basis.” Beyond this, they repeated their own proposal to remove from the contract all the current commitments on minimum incentives and commission rates, and make all incentive programs exclusively at company discretion.

On medical and dental, the company repeated its rejection of our proposal to set the family premium split at 70/30 and the dental premium at 50/50. Instead, the company reiterated its determination to also eliminate the guaranteed 85/15 split on the employee only share of medical coverage, and place the entire cost of medical premiums on a “me too” basis relative to unaffiliated employees, with all the splits on premium cost to be exclusively at company discretion.

The company also repeated its rejection of our proposals guaranteeing a 30-hour weekly minimum schedule for most Guild employees (the threshold for qualifying for medical benefits) and our fully compensated parking proposal.

With respect to company proposals to allow unaffiliated online staff to perform Guild work, we received some additional information about the company’s intentions in advertising in the near future. The company team went into some detail about areas where they saw potential overlap and efficiencies between print and online.

What the company did not explain was why they could not address their concerns or achieve efficiencies under the current Guild contract, which freely allows the assignment of additional types of work to Guild employees. Nor did the company team explain why, if their concern was focused on narrow and limited areas of overlap, they required the kind of blanket waiver of all jurisdiction that they have asked for, which would give them a free hand to assign unaffiliated online staff to any and all Guild work in news and advertising.

As we continue to talk with the company about its proposals, we honestly hope to be able to clearly identify the actual problems they may be trying to address. That is the case with all the issues we discussed yesterday, as well as other major issues the company has raised, such as outside activities, the future of the Home Delivery department, and seniority. First and foremost, our concern is to establish whether or not there really is a problem, and where exactly it is located. Second, to see if there is a way to address it that does not negatively affect the rights, interests, benefits, and livelihoods of our fellow Guild members. We believe each and every individual Guild member is entitled to equal respect as a “partner” with the company, and are seeking to represent you as such.

Present for the Guild: Ralph Erickson, Karl Neice, Teresa Scribner, Phil Kearney, Darryl Sclater, Darren Carroll.

Present for the Times: Mike Shepard, Martin Hammond, Valerie Inforzato, Leon Espinoza, Mike Sheehan.

Our next meetings with the company will be Tuesday, Feb. 5, and 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 January 25, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.

Company Adds Detail On Sweeping Proposals - Seattle Times Bargaining Bulletin #3

Tuesday’s meeting between the Guild bargaining team and the company continued to focus on company proposals. In some areas the company team brought forward the first details regarding specific changes they are seeking. In other areas they provided additional information and reasons for their stated goals, or went back to clarify their original proposal. The Guild bargaining team continued to press for the specific reasons behind the changes the company wants: What is the particular problem that a change is intended to fix? How will this make for a better business operation? How will it save the company money? Why can’t the same goals be accomplished under the existing language of the contract?

As you might imagine, the responses we received varied a great deal in both detail and persuasiveness. The items listed below cover the major topics. We are presenting them here mainly to outline our understanding of the company’s position. We have not agreed to anything, and continue to have questions and concerns about all of them.

Outside activities The company team let us know that they were reconsidering the use of the word “approval” with regard to outside activities, indicating that some form of prior notification might be sufficient. However, they did not present any modified language, so we don’t know if they have in mind something that is materially or practically different from prior approval.

Online/print newsroom jurisdiction Based on the examples provided, the company’s vision of shared print and online work in the newsroom appears to involve two main “flows.” In the main online-to-print-side “flow,” the Guild desk unit would assume more responsibility for editing and managing the online platform, similar to what is already taking place through the “visiting producer” program. (Nothing in the contract prevents this from happening now, as the “visiting producer” program itself shows). In the main print-to-online-side “flow,” the company wants to permit the use in the print edition of written and graphic material created by online, non-Guild employees. This is not currently permitted by the contract, and would constitute a major change in jurisdiction.

Home delivery changes The company added significant detail to their plans for Home Delivery. After reviewing their comparison of costs at other papers, the company team gave us a revised savings goal. It is now in the area of 20 percent of total cost, as opposed to the 25 percent previously estimated. We also received some numbers on the total cost of the Home Delivery operation. However, we did not receive any comparison for the cost of the specific parts of the operation performed by Guild staff, so we don’t yet know exactly how much of the company’s higher overall cost level can be identified as “our share.”

In considering ways to bring down Home Delivery costs, the company is focused on two broad options. One is a slimmed-down version of the current system, in which the overall number of Guild Home Delivery staff would likely be reduced but not eliminated. The other option is a so-called “agency” or “dealership” model, in which the Home Delivery operation would be sub-contracted to a number of non-employee dealers, who would then sub-contract their own teams of newspaper dealers. This would effectively eliminate all Guild jobs in Home Delivery (approximately 45 to 50 positions). The company team emphasized that they have not committed themselves to either model, but are evaluating both based on total overall cost.

Incentive programs Currently we have language in the contract that protects the minimum amount of incentive money available for those positions that have incentives as part of their compensation. The company has proposed to strike that language, and assume total control of all forms of incentive pay. The company team confirmed that while they might increase incentives for some positions, they would likely also reduce or eliminate them for others. This is clearly of concern because the current wage scales for many positions have been premised on the existence of a minimum level of incentive compensation, and we don’t know how much, if any, of the lost incentive would be made up in the form of regular pay.

Seniority The company wants more control to designate people for layoff out of seniority order. The stated goal is “to protect and retain current skills, abilities, and relevant experience.” As with some of their other proposals, they outlined a number of ways they might go about this: an exception list, which would set aside a certain number or percentage of people in each classification; a sub-division of major classifications into sub-classes (silos) each of which would be considered a separate layoff category; or the use of a purely internal evaluation process, which would not be subject to grievance or arbitration by the affected individuals.

All of these proposals involve major changes with enormous implications for many different individuals and the Guild unit as a whole. Many of them strike directly at the fundamental protections of our union contract. Your bargaining team is actively interested in your feedback on any and all of them. While we hope to find common ground and to forge real solutions with the company, we are committed to protecting and advancing the core interests of all our fellow Guild members. Please share your voice.

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.

We will meet again with the company today, Thursday, Jan. 24.

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 24, 2013 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES, BARGAINING.

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 ao37082@gmail.com, 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.

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.

Changes In Sick Pay and Attendance Policies At Seattle Times

On Friday, August 31, the HR department of the Times announced a number of changes to the Sick Pay, Attendance, and Discipline policies, effective September 1, in order to bring them into line with Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance (PSST). The information the Times sent out did a good job of explaining how the new policies will work in the future. However, it did not offer much explanation of why the changes were necessary, and how the new plan compares with the old one. While the new plan appears complicated and may be confusing at first, it preserves all existing sick leave benefits, and will make it easier to understand how much sick time you have available and when you can actually use it. Overall, it is a net gain for Guild members.

What new requirements were created by the PSST ordinance?

For an employer the size of the Times, the most basic requirements of the ordinance are that full-time employees must earn a minimum of 72 hours of paid sick time per calendar year (pro-rated for part-time workers) and be able to roll over or “bank” a total of 72 hours of sick time.

This part of the ordinance caused no real problems for the Times, because for most employees, Times policy was already more generous in both areas. (An exception to this was the Composing unit, which had no sick leave provision in the contract.) At the Times, full-time employees earned 80 hours per year of paid sick time (pro-rated for part-timers) and unused time could be “banked” up to a total of 1,040 hours.

However, Times policy conflicted with the PSST ordinance in three important areas:

1)   The ordinance requires that if employees have time in their sick leave bank at the time of the absence, they can use up to 72 hours per year of sick time before being disciplined for attendance.

2)   Limits on use must be tracked on the basis of a calendar year (January 1 thru December 31).

3)   The amount of currently available “banked” sick time must be regularly reported to employees.

Times policy came up short on point (1) because under the company’s “Two Percent” attendance policy, employees could miss only five days of work per year (just over 40 hours for full-time employee) before possibly being disciplined for attendance. It came up short on point (2) because the company’s “Two Percent” attendance policy tracked attendance on the basis of a rolling year, so that any employee’s active attendance record always counted from one year prior to the current date. And it came up short on point (3) because the “bank” of sick time was not posted anywhere, but could only be obtained by calling the payroll department.

How does the “two-banks” plan announced by the Times try to fix the conflict between Times policy and the ordinance?

 The problem for the Times was clearly the attendance policy. As evidenced by the “Two Percent” policy, the Times places a high priority on limiting casual absenteeism (to put it as diplomatically as possible). Yet the ordinance allows up to 72 hours of missed time per year (or nine missed days as opposed to five) if the time is available in the bank; and the average Guild member had about 635 hours of sick time banked at the time of the change. It appears that in making the changes the way they did, the Times was trying to avoid making too much time available for casual absences too quickly.

However, to be fair to the Times, simply telling people the grand total of hours in their current sick bank could create confusion, by making it appear that they could use all that time in the current year for any type of absence. That’s not the requirement of the ordinance and it’s not any type of recognized reasonable attendance policy.

So the company came up with the solution of setting up two different banks of sick time, to be used for different types of absences. The first, the Extended Illness Bank (EIB) takes everyone’s current sick leave bank and sets it aside to pay for any absence approved under FMLA, the Washington Family Care Act, or the six-month medical leave provision of the Guild contract. It is for these types of absences that most sick leave gets used, and for which it is the most valuable. At this point, everyone should remember that these types of absences have always been exempt from attendance discipline, even under the “Two Percent” discipline policy, and therefore nothing is changing under the new policy.

An absence qualifies for FMLA coverage if it involves all or part of at least four consecutive days, and you are under professional medical care of some kind. Chronic, recurring conditions that create shorter, intermittent absences may also be covered. You should always ask your medical provider if your injury or illness constitutes an FMLA-qualifying condition, and report it to the company if it does, so that it is accurately recorded on your attendance record.

The second bank is the Sick and Safe Time Bank (SST). This bank is intended to cover any illness that would keep you from work, but does not meet FMLA conditions, and also certain other emergency situations specified by the PSST ordinance. This bank starts at zero, effective September 1, and employees will earn and may use up to 80 hours of SST time per year.

The SST bank and the “Two Percent” policy:

One important fact that was not explicitly spelled out in the Times announcement is that the SST bank effectively replaces the “Two Percent” standard as the key to the attendance policy. As of September 1, the “Two Percent” standard is gone. Instead of facing a warning if non-FMLA absences rise above five days in a rolling year, employees will face a warning only if they have a non-FMLA absence and they do not have time in their SST bank to cover it. Assuming the SST time is available, this could be as many as 80 hours in a calendar year before any type of disciplinary warning.

What’s the deal with the seven-month “transition period”?

Since the SST bank is officially starting at zero, and because discipline for attendance on non-FMLA absences is now tied to whether or not there is sufficient time in the SST bank, there is a risk that someone who misses one or two days the next few months could receive a warning simply because they had not yet accumulated enough time in their SST bank to cover the absence, even if they have previously gone years with no other absences. The Times, to their credit, realized that this would not be fair. So until April 1 of next year, anyone who runs out of SST time can use up to 24 hours of EIB time to cover the shortfall. By April 1 of next year, a full-time employee will have had the opportunity to accrue almost 50 hours of SST time, and therefore should be able to safely cover incidental non-FMLA absences to the extent envisioned in the PSST ordinance.

Why do I have to go online to check my SST balance?

 The PSST ordinance simply says that available sick time must be reported to employees and updated every time wages are paid; it does not specify how this must be done, and permits doing it exclusively online. The Times has elected to follow the minimum reporting requirements and require employees to actively check their own balances. Every employee will be able to access their SST bank information through the UltiPro payroll record system. The information sent out by the Times on Friday contains instructions on how to set up your UltiPro account, if you haven't done so already.

Could the Times have provided fewer benefits if they wanted to?

 Yes. There is nothing in the PSST ordinance that requires the company to keep the 1,040-hour-maximum EIB banks in place. Also, the 80 hours of SST time accruing each year is eight hours more than the minimum of 72 required by the ordinance. The company retains control over design of any sick leave plan, as long as it meets the minimum standards of the ordinance.

What the company cannot do is design a sick leave plan that is more generous to some employees than to others. Section 15 of the Guild contract says that Guild employees “shall benefit from the same sick-pay policy as is made applicable to the Publisher’s managerial and unaffiliated employees.” As long as the Times believes there is a benefit to retaining a more generous sick-leave benefit like the EIB bank for their managers and other staff, they must retain it for Guild members as well.

Why is the Times applying the terms of the Seattle PSST ordinance to all Guild employees, when some of them work outside Seattle city limits?

 The Times could probably get away with having two different policies, one inside Seattle city limits, where the PSST ordinance legally applies, and one outside, where it does not. The Times has informed the Guild that it regards itself as legally and contractually able to do this. However, this would almost certainly be a huge administrative headache. Therefore, the company says that it is electing to have one policy, based on the PSST ordinance, and will apply it uniformly through all Guild departments.

At the end of the day, is the new policy a net gain or loss for Guild members?

 Overall it is a net gain:

  • No actual accrued paid sick time has been lost. Via the EIB bank, everyone retains access to their full accrued time in case of extended illness. Because any long-term illness would qualify for FMLA leave anyway, there is no problem having this time in a separate bank.
  • The “Two Percent” attendance policy has always put a practical limit on how much sick time employees could use for non-FMLA illnesses. The SST bank will allow employees to actually use paid sick leave for non-FMLA absences at a significantly more generous rate than under the “Two Percent” policy.
  • Employees will need to make sure that they have SST time available before an absence, and will need to check their balance online. However, this should be simpler and clearer than calculating how many prior absences they have accrued in their “rolling year,” as under the “Two Percent” policy.

The Guild will still want to keep a close eye on how all this works in practice, especially any warnings that get issued in cases where people don’t have time in their SST bank. The PSST ordinance also allows the company to seek additional information if there appears to be a “pattern of abuse” in the use of sick leave. The Guild will also want to make sure that policy in that area is conducted respectfully and fairly as well.

How can I get additional information about the PSST ordinance and sick leave policy at the Times?

 Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights has a lot of good information about PSST at this website:

www.cityofseattle.net/civilrights/SickLeave.htm

Please also share any other concerns you may have, and your experience, good or bad, in attempting to navigate the new system. If any issues appear to be inconsistent with the Guild contract or with the PSST ordinance, we will take them up with company.

 

Posted on September 11, 2012 and filed under SEATTLE TIMES.