Our look at the books
By Liz Brown
Guild Administrative Officer
As part of our negotiations for two new contracts at The Seattle Times, the Guild-CWA bargaining teams asked Times negotiators to open the company’s finances to our scrutiny. We wanted this because the Times is insisting that employees accept a two-year wage freeze.
About a month into bargaining, the Times agreed to show us the books. We had to sign a confidentiality agreement that set strict limits on the information a CWA representative would see. Last week, CWA Research Economist Irvin Stout met Mae Numata, the Times chief financial officer, to review the data.
Under the terms of the confidentiality agreement, the Times provided Stout with information that was intended to allow him to confirm or deny the following four company assertions:
- The Seattle Times Newspaper has failed to meet its budgeted operating revenue goals for the years 2000 through 2005, and year to date through May 2006;
- The Seattle Times Newspaper has incurred net losses, excluding property sales, for the years 2000 through 2005;
- The losses, collectively, amount to millions of dollars over that period;
- Unaffiliated staff at the Company were subject to a general wage freeze during 2001 and 2005.
The review of records verified the first three assertions to Stout's professional satisfaction.
Information presented to verify the fourth assertion was murkier, and Stout was unable to conclusively verify a general wage freeze. He was shown a sample of 120 unaffiliated employees' payroll records, and those employees had received no wage increases in 2001 or 2005. There are 550 unaffiliated employees, and Stout was not provided with wage histories for the remaining unaffiliated employees.
Alayne Fardella, Senior Vice President for Human Resources and Labor Relations, said last week in negotiations that some unaffiliated employees received raises if they were promoted or if their job duties changed by more than 50 percent.
Given the limited terms of the confidentiality agreement, Mr. Stout was unable to access or divulge additional information.
“I think the membership should know that things were ‘bad’ but have improved somewhat,” Stout said. “The company appears to be on the right road to recovery but is not quite there yet.”