Guild/CWA Contract Ratification Questions and Answers
Q: Where and when will the Seattle Times contract ratification vote take place? A: The ratification meetings and voting will take place at the Fairview Club, 2022 Boren Ave., which is located southeast of the Times across Denny Way. The meetings will take place over two days at the following times: 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, and noon and 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14. The votes will be counted after the final meeting.
Q: Who may vote on the proposed Seattle Times contracts? A: Full members in good standing are eligible to vote on the contract for their unit. The Guild contract covers Advertising, Circulation, News and Marketing. The Composing contract covers the Composing department. If you’re unsure of your membership status, call the Guild office at 206-328-1190.
Q: I’m a new employee. Do I get to vote? A: New employees may vote if they sign an information card and make provisions to pay dues (most people choose payroll deduction). Sign-up materials for new members will be available at the ratification meetings. If people aren’t new, and they don’t show up on our membership roster, we will ask them to vote a challenge ballot until we can verify their membership information.
Q: Will the vote be by a show of hands? A: No, the vote will be by secret ballot. You will have to sign next to your name on our membership roster to receive a ballot.
Q: I want to ask the bargaining team some questions before I vote. Will the team be available? A: Yes. At every ratification meeting, the bargaining team will make a presentation on the changes to the contract, discuss its recommendation and answer questions from members. The meetings also provide an opportunity for members to express their opinions to others. We hope that members will attend and listen before voting.
Q: I will be on vacation and out of town the week of the vote. Can I still vote? A: No, you must be present to vote. The only exception made is for employees who are out of town for work purposes, either because of their regular assignment (e.g., reporters in the Olympia and Washington D.C. bureaus) or a special assignment (e.g., on assignment to a convention or other event). For these employees, we have provisions for voting by fax. If you wish to make such arrangements, call the Guild office at 206-328-1190.
Q: Do a certain percentage of members have to vote in order for the vote to be valid? A: No. The vote will be decided by a simple majority of those voting.
Q: Are we going to take a strike authorization vote during the ratification meetings? A: At this time, no.
Q: Will the bargaining team put its recommendation on the blog before the vote? A: Probably not. The blog is open to anyone on the web, and it’s not the best place for conversations that should take place among members only. The team hasn’t yet met to discuss its recommendation, but will do so prior to the vote. The team will discuss its recommendation at the ratification meetings.
Q: Can members see copies of the new contract prior to voting? A: Yes, copies of the proof document will be available as soon as the final version is set. Summaries of changes to both contracts are available for download on the Guild web site, pnwguild.org.
Composing-unit bargainers met with company officials Thursday evening to wrap up final proposals and come to a tentative agreement on a contract. They hope to be able to hold ratification meetings and voting on the same dates as the main unit (Sept. 13 and 14).
The contract wrapped up with tentative agreements on:
Changes to the life and disability plan language
The company's proposal on picket-line language
We withdrew outstanding proposals on:
Increasing contributions to the pension fund
90-day notice of a sale or closure
Restoring Sandra Raynor (formerly Tollefson) to journey-level status
Chapel chair Rena Mefford said of the Raynor proposal: "I’d like to make a note that this was the last item to come off. There was a lot of objection to this, and this was very important to our group."
I'd like to thank Rena and the other Guild bargainers who worked so hard on the Composing-unit contract: Dan Beaumont, Gene Balk, Darryl Sclater and Guild AO Liz Brown. Thanks also to the main-unit team for participating in the opening session of Composing talks.
The tentative agreement reached with The Seattle Times will be put to a ratification vote on two upcoming dates, Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 13 and 14. The polling place will be at the Fairview Club, across Denny Way adjacent to the Times. Exact times will be posted later, and mobilization coordinators will distribute fliers in the workplace prior to the vote.
Copies of the tentative agreement will be available for review as soon as the proofing process is complete. The Guild also will distribute a summary document, but as always, we encourage members to read the contract. Know and understand what you’re voting on.
The ratification meetings will feature presentations from the bargaining team, which includes the following elected leaders and rank-and-file Times members: Times Unit Chairman Gene Balk (news research); Guild Local President Yoko Kuramoto-Eidsmoe (Features copy desk); Times Vice-Chair for News, Paul Morgan (copy desk); Times Vice-Chair for Advertising Bob Johnston (Sales, majors advertising); Times Vice-Chair for Circulation Barbara Heller (Assistant district adviser, Home Delivery, City zone); Times Composing Chapel Chairwoman Rena Mefford; Times Composing member Dan Beaumont; Senior Clerk and Shop Steward Patrick Fry (Inside Circ.); Shop Steward Darryl Sclater (Assistant district adviser, Home Delivery, East zone); and Advertising Account Executive and Shop Steward Sheri Williams.
The Times bargaining team worked many hours on the tentative agreement reached Aug. 23. The team felt it had hammered as hard as it could on the issues that meant the most to our members.
We want to thank Advertising Sales Associate Marilyn Ige for showing up the day the Guild presented its initial wage-increase proposal. Marilyn took time from a very busy day to make an eloquent and impassioned statement to Times management on behalf of her co-workers. She spoke from the heart about what a wage freeze would mean for sales associates.
We also want to thank the Commission Sales employees in Advertising who attended the meetings in which their special section of the contract was discussed and negotiated: Bonnie McSwain, Jaime Ladner, Kathy Nielsen, Michael Richard and Marlene Tomberg.
The team also thanks our good brother Irvin Stout, a research economist for CWA international, who came here to review the Seattle Times finances for us.
A number of members have said they missed Stout’s report when it was posted earlier on this blog. It is available below:
Three months of bargaining ended Wednesday with a tentative contract agreement between the Guild and Times management.
In the eyes of your Guild team, however, that simple statement is layered with disappointment, frustration, pride and even a little resignation. The Guild team agreed to drop the birthday holiday, accept the wage freeze and a version of the management rights clause. In return we get the company to pull its poison pills: The 2 of 10 proposal and the exemptions for the editorial writers and cartoonist. We’ll have a more thorough list later, along with proofs of the contract you’re going to be voting on.
Disappointment. We got very little in return for all the “goodwill” extended to the company by the Guild over the past six years. Management simply wasn’t moving.
Frustration. All the pleas and speeches in the world left us in the same place we started: Facing a company determined to extract yet another concession from its employees.
Pride. The members of this team argued with passion, persistence and eloquence.
Resignation. We now send this contract to you for a vote. There will probably be no unanimous recommendation from the Guild team. None of us likes this contract. We think the company could have given us more in recognition of the cooperation we extended in the past six years and in return for a wage freeze. But that’s not that way this company operates. Anyone who’s been paying attention during bargaining can see that. Compromise is not a strong point of Times management.
So it’s your call now. A couple of things to chew on.
1) This is a short contract. That’s little consolation to our brothers and sisters who are barely hanging on. We realize that. But this experience has been a galvanizing one for your Guild team. No matter what happens with this vote, we’re going to do everything we can to come back in two years stronger. We hope you’ll be there with us.
After all, just imagine what our situation would be WITHOUT the protection of our union.
2) A “no” vote does NOT mean we go on strike, but it also doesn’t guarantee leverage with the company. A “no” vote has to come with some kind of action from the membership. We don’t know what form that action might take. That’s certainly something to discuss on the blog and during the ratification meetings.
But know this: If you vote this contract down, be ready to do SOMETHING. Wear your shirts. Display stickers. Come to bargaining sessions.
The ratification vote will probably occur in about two weeks, after the Guild has proofed and re-proofed the contract and sent it to the company for a once-over. During that time, we hope all of you will send in your comments.
We also can’t stress enough the importance of coming to the ratification votes. This is your chance to have a voice. The team will be there to take questions. We’ll let you know the particulars as soon as we can.
Guild and Times bargainers spent Tuesday's session searching for meaning.
Specifically, we're trying to get to the bottom of what the company's "management rights" proposal is trying to say.
The company's original proposal on Article 26.1 is to add the following language to the contract:
"All management functions which the Publisher has not modified or restricted by a specific provision of this Agreement are retained and vested exclusively in the Publisher."
Both sides have since added and subtracted some language to this proposal, in an attempt to clarify and to reach common ground.
This clause was in the contract from 1986 to 2000, but was left out (because of management's error) of the contract ratified at the end of the strike.
The company's position is that because the deletion was inadvertent, it should be restored to the contract. Our position is that anything the membership didn't vote for should be treated as new language to the contract.
So with that in mind, we started asking some questions.
Times Labor Relations Director Chris Biencourt said that a management-functions clause is to reserve for management decisions such as what products the company's going to make, how many employees it's going to have, and where the business will be located.
We're OK with that, but as Guild Administrative Officer Liz Brown pointed out, those are rights that management has inherently, with or without this kind of clause.
Because we think the company already has those kinds of rights, we asked several questions to try to figure out what inclusion of this clause would mean.
The problem the company faces is this: Because the clause used to be in the contract, if it gets left out of the contract, the union can use the absence against the company in an arbitration. When something comes out of a contract, arbitrators interpret that as meaning something.
The problem the union faces is this: If we add this to a contract that doesn't currently include it, the company could assert that it has brand-new rights that it didn't have before, and that could give it extra weight in an arbitration as well.
We don't want to accept language that would in any way limit our ability to bargain over company decisions that would negatively affect members.
The Guild bargaining team is attempting to work out a compromise that would address the concerns from both sides, and hopes to be able to resolve this last outstanding issue at Wednesday's session.
The big news out of Monday's negotiations between The Seattle Times and the Composing unit is that nothing's changing in the way that vacations are scheduled. Management had proposed to take initial vacation scheduling out of the hands of the chapel chair and have a manager do it.
Composing bargainers had been prepared to agree to that, if the company would agree to dues checkoff. (That's the system used in the main Guild unit, where the company automatically deducts union dues from your paycheck and forwards it to the Guild office.)
Times management was so averse to dues checkoff for the 21-member unit that it refused a package proposal we made. In exchange for dues checkoff, we would agree to:
Withdraw our proposal to divert up to 15 cents to the CWA pension.
Withdraw our proposal to require 90 days notice of the company's closure or sale.
Withdraw our proposal to require that a new owner of The Seattle Times honor the existing contract.
Accept the company's proposal on picket-line language.
With management's "no" to that package, those items remain on the table.
The company is considering our current proposal on contributions to the life and disability plan. Our proposal is basically a description of the way those contributions are currently calculated.
Management also reiterated its rejection of our proposal for sick leave for Composing-unit members. (Composing-unit members currently receive no paid sick leave.)
Another proposal they've turned down is one that would allow member Sandra Tollefson to return to journey-level status. Tollefson was originally hired in 1996, and subsequently earned journey-level status. She was laid off in January 2002, and rehired in July 2003 at the lower-paid associate wage level. If she had been rehired within a year, the contract would have required that she be returned at the higher level.
During discussion of this proposal, Guild President Yoko Kuramoto-Eidsmoe reasoned that Tollefson should be paid at the higher level since she's already demonstrated that she has the higher level of skills required of a journey-level worker.
Labor Relations Director Chris Biencourt said that journey level isn't a higher level. Biencourt said that they are the same jobs with the same skill levels.
"But one is paid more than another," Kuramoto-Eidsmoe said, confused.
"The associate rate is the market rate for the job," Biencourt said.
Guild Administrative Officer Liz Brown translated: "What he’s saying is that he thinks the Composing journey people get paid too much, and the associate level is what they want to pay. That way they can hire people at a cheaper rate. Isn’t that what you’re saying?"
"You have your words and I have mine," Biencourt replied.
The next Composing session will be after Labor Day.
Friday was "Let's Get This Deal Done" day in bargaining between the Guild and Times management. It was a day of exchanging big package proposals that ended with serious doubt about the future productivity of these talks.
One thing is abundantly clear to your bargaining team after our attempts on Friday: The company wants you to accept a wage freeze AND doesn't want to sweeten the deal.
Not in the slightest.
Company negotiators started the wrap-up discussion with a long list of "no" responses to our proposal, including our request for a 25 cent raise in each of the two years of the contract. But they also expressed a willingness to drop their 2-in-10 proposal if we offered other concessions.
After much debate and plenty of hand wringing, the Guild team made the following packaged counteroffer to Times management:
We agreed to drop . . .
1) jurisdiction language; 2) neutrality and card-check proposals 3) substitute-pay proposal 4) vacation proposal 5) two proposals regarding leaves of absence (leave notification and using vacation for FMLA) 6) severance 7) picket-line language 8) 90-day sale notice 9) the clause that would require any buyer of the Times to honor our agreement
And the big concession that nobody wanted to give: Accept a two year wage freeze.
In exchange, we wanted four main things:
1) That the company accept our language for its management-rights clause. In our new version, we simply added words used by Senior VP for labor-relations/HR Alayne Fardella when she described how this clause might be applied by the company. We also eliminated the phrase "specific provision." 2) Withdrawal of the 2 of 10 proposal 3) Withdrawal of the proposal to exempt the editorial cartoonist and writers from the unit. 4) Give each employee a holiday on their birthday.
We told management that this deal, if taken as-is, would come with the unanimous blessing of the Guild bargaining team.
The management team went into caucus for an hour and 15 minutes. Its answer upon returning?
As it had signaled earlier in the session, the company agreed to drop 2 of 10 and the editorial exemptions. BUT . . .
1) You can have a birthday holiday if you want, but only in exchange for one of the other holidays in the contract. After all, that proposal is "economic" and therefore "not what we're here to do." (The Guild team is pondering the idea that Christmas might be a good holiday to trade. What do you all think?) 2) A counterproposal on management rights that is unsatisfactory, in the view of the bargaining team. We're working on a compromise that we hope will work for both sides.
It was then, with 5 p.m. quickly approaching and almost eight hours of bargaining behind us, that a very unhappy and frustrated group of Guild bargainers decided to call it a day.
And that leaves us where?
We agreed to give up basically everything we have left AND accept a wage freeze if the company would pull off two of its aggressive attempts to weaken the unit, accept our counter on their unpalatable management-rights clause, and give everyone an extra day off. With that proposal dead, we're basically left with a company that is offering all stick and no carrot.
Our list of options is short. It was before Friday's session and it's even shorter now. The company remains tone deaf on wages and vacation and nearly everything else our members have asked us to propose.
We need to hear from you folks out there.
The next main-unit meeting with management is Tuesday.
Times management, apparently tired of what it calls the "labor dance," asked Wednesday for a temporary hold in bargaining with the Guild in an effort to, in its words, "cut to the chase."
Company Senior VP for Labor Relations and Human Resources Alayne Fardella suggested bargaining continue only after the commission-only salespeople have brought their counterproposal to the table. Then, she said, the two teams can come together to "wrap things up."
"On Friday," Fardella said, "let's put everything on the table and let's make a commitment to throw things off. Trying to balance how we cut through the more traditional labor dance and get to the end."
For the second meeting in a row, Times management came to the table with no proposals and no counterproposals, other than a sentiment that we should take a break and "cut to the chase." It left most of the Guild team wondering this: If the company is so interested in wrapping this up, then why has it essentially stalled for the past three weeks? After all, we still have outstanding proposals, but the company seems resistant to negotiation.
That was never more clear than near the end of the session. The Guild team agreed to make Thursday a caucus day, and then asked Times chief negotiator Chris Biencourt if the company had an answer on our proposal for 25 cent raises, which we gave the company almost a week ago.
"We'll give an answer on Friday," he said.
The startled look on Guild AO Liz Brown's face was priceless.
Sheri Williams, Guild bargainer, bristled at the suggestion that the Guild team wasn't already trying to make progress: "I take issue with the idea that we may have been doing some kind of a 'labor dance,' " she said. "Every day we come with a list and make a commitment to make some kind of movement. Last time, your side came to the table with nothing. If you had been prepared to move last Friday, I think we could have possibly been at the end."
It was a sentiment echoed by Guild bargainer Paul Morgan: "I'm all for making movement. But this is two meetings in a row when you've come with nothing concrete. We have all kinds of stuff that we're willing to put out on the table. I totally agree with your sentiment (to get his done). I have a great job I want to get back to. I don't know what you're hoping to accomplish with a speech that hangs it all out there and tries to usher us quickly to (conclusion)."
Guild bargainer Darryl Sclater said a quick resolution without proper debate and discussion could create more problems than it solves.
"What we agree on here is not the final word," he said. "It has to go out and be voted on by the membership as a whole. It could be counterproductive to rush a deal through and make people feel that we didn't (try everything we could)."
Guild prez Yoko Kuramoto-Eidsmoe asked why, if the company is prepared to make progress, it couldn't do so without a break.
"When Paul (Morgan, Guild bargainer) said 'It feels like we're playing games,' it struck me that this whole labor process . . . it seems like it's not what we're trying to accomplish," Fardella said. "We were trying to keep it as least contentious as possible."
So the Guild team will meet on Thursday to discuss its options, with the intention - as always - of returning to the table on Friday and making progress.
What exactly does a “wage freeze” mean? It’s important to know exactly what the Times’ proposal for a wage freeze means. There would be no contract or cost-of-living increases, nor any raises for the bulk of our members. However, newer employees who are still climbing through the contract progression wage scales would continue to receive the appropriate “step increases” as they gain more tenure. If your pay rate is completely above the top minimum on the scale, you would receive no wage increases.
How many people in the bargaining unit still have potential "step increases" within their wage classification? About 140 people, or 23 percent of the bargaining unit, appear to have at least one "step" left on their individual wage scale. The other 77 percent of the bargaining unit (three out of every four people) are at the top of the scale and effectively "maxed out." There is a wide variation between different departments in terms of how many people still have possible step increases. The proportion is highest in Advertising, where almost half the people (48 percent) appear to be in a position to move up at least one "step." This seems to be explained by the fact that an almost identical percentage of the Advertising work force (49 percent) has been with the company for three years or less, indicating a high rate of turnover and many new hires. Outside of Advertising, only about 13 percent of the workforce (one person in eight) has at least one "step" left, and they tend to be newer hires in lower-paying classifications. The remaining seven out of every eight people are "maxed out." Finally, since the wage figures these numbers are based on are several months old, a number of people probably have just taken that "final step" and joined the ranks of the "maxed out."
What about merit pay? The Guild bargaining team has asked Times negotiators on a couple of occasions if merit increases will be available to union employees under the new contract. The answer is a decisive “don’t know.” “Nothing prohibits it,” said Martin Hammond, labor-relations analyst, in a recent negotiations session. We don’t know what would happen if a competitor tried to lure away a Times employee. Would the company match the competitor’s offer? The Guild has a proposal on the table to change the contract language on merit pay. The contract currently says:
“Employees who received merit pay prior to December 5, 1983, shall continue to receive such merit pay during their term of employment. Any merit pay applied after December 5, 1983, may be removed at the Publisher’s option.”
We have proposed to get rid of the language that allows the employer to remove merit pay. So far, the Times has rejected any change. Since the company wants to hold on to the language, the Guild has asked for a list of employees who have received merit pay, and how much and when they received it. What about “pay for performance”? Another form of incentive pay, known as “Pay for Performance,” is described in Appendix A of the contract (page 52):
“Employees whose minimum salaries are increased due to performance increases shall continue to receive such performance increase during their term of employment, unless transferred to a job classification that does not qualify for performance pay.”
We asked about PFP in negotiations. Company negotiators told us that PFP raises haven’t been funded since the 1990s, except for some PFP increases granted to news employees in 2001 and 2002. How do you know whether a raise you received in the past was PFP or merit pay? Good question. It’s part of the information we asked the Times for. It’s important to know the difference, since PFP under most circumstances remains part of your base wage.
What about incentive payments and commissions? Nothing in the current contract negotiations would change the incentives and commissions earned primarily by Advertising and Circulation employees. The Guild and the Times have agreed to add language on goal-setting to the contract. But for those who don’t regularly read the contract, this is what it says about incentives and commissions:
Article 8.4.1—Unless otherwise committed within the terms of this Agreement, it is understood the Publisher may add, modify or eliminate all forms of incentive payment as the Publisher determines is necessary.
Article 8.4.2—During the life of this Agreement, the Publisher will not reduce the potential incentive pay available to advertising and circulation employees under monthly and quarterly incentive plans.
Article 8.4.3—Incentive plans will be administered fairly and equitably. Appeals or concerns under this subsection are not subject to the grievance and arbitration provision of this Agreement.
What about the wage diversion for medical? With a wage freeze, won’t we likely see our wages decline as the medical diversion inevitably increases? The Times isn’t going so far as to say that a wage-diversion increase is inevitable, but they do say it’s probable. And if you look at the numbers since 2001 you’ll find that we have had increases four out of the past five years. (In 2004, there was actually a 2 cent an hour decrease in cost due to a one-time savings achieved by a change in plan structure.) In the four years in which we had increases, the average was roughly 10 cents an hour per year, and has produced a total increase of approximately 39 cents per hour over the course of the current contract. The current total wage diversion is 99.76 cents (about a dollar) per hour. If you’re full time, that’s $80 coming out of each paycheck.
If these trends hold, over the next two years Guild employees will be looking at an average increase in the medical diversion of roughly 10 cents per hour per year. This would raise the cost to $96 out of each paycheck for full-timers by year two.
In other words, based on these numbers and the company’s no-increase wage proposal, it is likely we could be looking at an actual wage cut of 20 cents per hour over the next two years.
The Times management team came to the table on Friday with nothing.
No counterproposals. No compromises. Nothing.
After months of bargaining, the Guild bargaining team is left wondering about the company's strategy in these "negotiations." The company's line repeats again and again: "Minimal change" and "status quo." Yet there remain some extremely aggressive proposals from the company.
Oh, and that wage freeze.
So you would think the company would be interested in making progress? Maybe drop some of those nefarious proposals? Think again.
Here's a sample conversation:
Liz Brown (Guild administrative officer): Is it your intent to achieve an agreement here? Chris Biencourt (management): Yes. LB: Is it your intent to keep the 2-in-10 on the table here and expect us to take it to the membership for a vote? CB: We won't know that until the end, Liz.
"We don't think that you're really bargaining in good faith," Brown said later. "Maybe it would be a good time to bring a mediator into these discussions."
We did not report last Friday an important piece of news: The company has turned down our offer to trade our card check and neutrality proposals for the company's rancid 2-of-10 exemption proposal.
Why didn't we report it? Apparently, the company's "status document," which was given to the Guild team last Friday, was an answer to that offer.
That's a distinction that nobody on the Guild side of the table took away from our conversations on Aug. 4.
"We also want to take issue with your poor communication. Handing out a status document is not a response on outstanding proposals," Brown said.
The "status document" was in fact a NO on lots of Guild proposals: The .40/hour wage proposal, severance, vacation.
Friday was a contentious day. The Guild team has told the company that it will not get a counteroffer on its odious "management rights" clause until it pulls 2-of-10 from the table. The company says that it needs the extra exemptions in recruiting.
Paul Morgan, Guild bargainer, took issue with that.
"If we give you an extra person, you'll just fill those up and you'll be back at the table next time with a 3-in-10 proposal," he said. "To me, it's a nonstarter."
Biencourt said it was a matter of choice for employees.
"It's not status quo. It's not part of the pattern. It just doesn't seem appropriate at this time," Times unit chair Gene Balk said.
Guild bargainer Darryl Sclater noted that people who have a 1-of-10 exemption get the benefits of union backing in grievance procedures but don't have to pay Guild dues. That ends up costing the Guild money and time.
We're not interested in this proposal because it would hurt every Guild member. If fewer people are paying dues, that means a reduction in services and resources that the Guild can provide to all its members.
The Guild team made yet another counter on wages. This one is 25 cents an hour for both years. It's a mere $10 a week for each Guild employee. It had Biencourt asking, "Would that $10 really make a difference?"
Guild bargainer Bob Johnston brought his typical passion to his answer:
"In all good conscience, you have to see the people who are kind of the working gear and mechanisms of this business," he said. "The support staff. I have them come to me, now. A lot of them are wearing my face on a sticker. I would have to look at the management in good conscience to, in your closed-door caucuses to find a way. You can do this. I know you can do this. These people deserve this.
"This is important stuff. You have the power to do this. You can make this happen. Consider that."
Morgan mentioned the company's desire to have employees accept a wage freeze as an investment in the company. He said that investment was a matter of trust.
"The response that I've been getting out there, is that people aren't real trusting right now that the company is going to do what's in their best interests down the road," he said. "I think you ought to be concerned about that."
Alayne Fardella questioned Morgan's earlier statements that several of the agreements in bargaining were "hollow."
"I would be willing to go to the rooftop and shout 'This is significant!' on severance," Morgan said. "I think it's great that we had the conversation, I just don't see why it couldn't have gone all the way. What was disappointing to me: It was a little like saying 'Well, we talked about this and there's a little bit there. It just didn't seem like we accomplished much there.' "
We're back to the table for six straight sessions starting on Wednesday next week. We hope to make some movement. We really hope to hear from members about bargaining. What's on your mind? E-mail email@example.com or post to the blog (Anonymous is OK!).
LONG Readers Digest of what we’ve accomplished and how far we need to go Times brethren,
I’ve tried to sift the “highlights” of the agreements from our bargaining sessions and give them a little more explanation and context. I’m not going to cover the stuff we’ve dropped. We return to the table on Friday (Aug. 11). Paul
Sick leave The company did not want to put the sick leave policy in the contract, and was willing only to reference the current formula for acquiring sick leave.
15.3.1 The publisher retains the right to determine the length of time sick leave benefits shall continue, provided, however that employees under this contract shall benefit from the same sick-pay policy as is made applicable to the Publisher’s managerial and unaffiliated employees. The current formula, which may be changed at the Publisher’s discretion after written notice to the Guild and employees, allows full-time employees ten (10) days (80 hours) of paid sick leave per year of service, less time used, and is pro-rated for employees working less than full time. Unused sick leave is carried forward and builds up to a cap of six months (1,040 hours of the pro-rata equivalent). The Publisher shall periodically post or otherwise notify covered employees of its sick pay policy.”
Training opportunities We heard from plenty of members who felt it was too difficult to move up in the newsroom at the Times. We thought this proposal by the company had merit, so we agreed to it. I’ve left out the old language.
12.1 News Assistants, lead news assistants and other support staff may apply to train in the duties of a reporter, photographer, desk editor, page designer or news artist for a period of up to six months and shall be paid no less than the starting minimum in job classification A6 plus 10 percent, or their current pay rate plus 10 percent, whichever is greater, for the duration of the training period. Such assignments will be granted in the sole discretion of the Publisher. Unless promoted before the end of the temporary assignment, the employee will be returned to his/her former duties and former rate of pay and will be considered for appropriate future openings.
Advertising standards of performance There was a lot of concern among advertising folks that standards of performance goals were not being applied fairly. While we didn’t get the kinds of assurances we wanted, we did feel good about the agreement we reached.
8.4.4 Advertising revenue goal expectations shall be established according to an interactive goal-setting process which is defined in writing and posted or otherwise made available to all sales representatives. Upcoming vacations, leaves of absence, desk coverage, trends, major account losses and gains and other factors will be considered in this interactive goal-setting process.
Substance abuse / medications Drug testing: We agreed to a Times proposal that allows for on-site drug testing if an employee is suspected of being drunk or high at work. The company has said the policy goes something like this: Samples are acquired by a medical professional and a preliminary test is run on the spot. In the case of a negative result, the matter is dropped right then. In the case of a positive, the employee is taken home and the samples are sent for further testing. Medication and Safety: The Guild team and management debated the company’s initial proposal saying that employees must notify their supervisors about any medications they are taking that might affect their ability to do their job. The company came back with a counter that we agreed to. Here it is:
“Employees taking prescribed medications must report safety restrictions on which they have been instructed by their physician or pharmacist and which might affect their safe performance of job duties. For purposes of this policy, employees are not required to reveal to their manager the name of the medication nor the medical condition for which being treated.”
Reduction in force The Guild team wanted seven weeks of notice. The company wanted to stick with the status quo of four weeks. What we ended up with is this language:
4.2 . . . The publisher agrees that the four week notice period required (or pay in lieu) is a minimum period, and that often it will be desirable and helpful to employees to receive more advance notice than the minimum. The Publisher agrees to exercise its discretion in good faith and to give more notice to the greatest extent possible in keeping with business considerations. Scheduling notice
The Guild team felt that allowing the company to change an employee’s days off with one week’s notice essentially amounted to that employee having no set days off. So the company agreed to delete the language allowing for one week notice in advertising and circulation but wanted language that allowed changes in the event of “unanticipated or emergency news, business, operational or advertiser need.”
Reporters can leave their cars at home The company agreed to this language.
19.1 . . .With advance approval of their manager, employees who are required to use their automobiles in the course of their employment may use alternate means to arrive at work on days when the employees are reasonably certain that the use of their automobiles will not be necessary.
Here are the major proposals remaining from the company’s side
As part of its status quo proposal, the company wants to change the contract to allow two out of 10 (instead of one out of 10) employees to be exempt from the Guild. We’ve made a counter here: We withdraw our card check and neutrality proposals in exchange for the company withdrawing this. No word from the company yet.
Add the editorial cartoonist, editorial writers to the exempt list.
Management Functions: This proposal from the company.
“All management functions or prerogatives which the Publisher has not modified or restricted by a specific provision of this Agreement are retained and vested exclusively in the Publisher.”
This is a particularly sticky issue, because the Guild team thinks this proposal gives the company too much latitude to decide what is and isn’t grievable. The company has insisted that any contract they propose will have this language in the contract. As you might remember, a “clerical” error by the company left this language out of the final version of the last contract, which was voted on and approved by members six years ago. The company insists this isn’t a new proposal and “belongs” in the contract. We believe the members and the Times approved a contract without this language. Any attempt to place it back in the contract means we have to weigh its merits anew. We find no merit in the language and have communicated that to the company.
WAGE FREEZE: One important note here. A wage freeze would not apply to employees who still have through mandated contract “steps.” (Think fourth year to fifth year, etc.) So it is not a complete wage freeze, per se. Then again, we don’t have a lot of employees still making the steps.
Here are the major points left from the Guild proposal
40 cents per hour status quo raises.
Article 3.1.1 – We want to delete this language from the contract: “It is recognized that work presently performed by employees within the bargaining unit . . . may from time to time be subject to reassignment and/or elimination because of new or modified processes or equipment employed by the Publisher, or based on demonstrable operational needs of the Publisher.”
Neutrality clause: “The Seattle Times agrees that it shall remain neutral if unafilliated employees seek representation under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.” (Will withdraw in exchange for 8 in 10)
Card Check: “Upon showing by the Guild through a card check that it has obtained a majority in any other department of the publisher, it agrees to recognize the Guild as the exclusive bargaining agent of the employees in such department or departments, and further agrees to enter into negotiations for a supplement to this agreement covering such department or departments.” (Will withdraw in exchange for 8 in 10)
Article 8.2.1 – Remove the company’s deletion of merit pay. As it stands, the company can remove merit pay at will. Merit pay, according to the management team, is anything above the contract minimums that wasn’t considered “pay for performance.”
Vacation proposal. We’ve proposed a fifth week after seven years of service. No answer yet.
Article 17 – Severance. 1.5 weeks per year of service, a minimum of four weeks a maximum of 26 weeks. We also inserted language that says the company can increase the formula if it wants to.
Article 23 – Picket Line language. We want to be able to respect the picket lines of the other unions at the Times.
Article 26.5 – 90 day closure notice/sale.
Article 26.6 – Successor clause.
“The publisher shall ensure that this agreement inures to the benefit of, and is binding upon, the successors and assigns of the Publisher. Included in such assurance is the obligation of the Publisher to include any prospective buyer’s acceptance of the terms and conditions of the agreement as one of the terms of any sale agreement.” This was rejected by the company. We contend that this proposal is like the company giving us the sleeves off its vest. Said Times chief negotiator Chris Biencourt: ” “We’re negotiating a contract for this owner” and “That’s not what we’re here to do” and “It’s not our job to eliminate uncertainty.”
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.”
(We asked our co-workers how a wage freeze would affect them. Below is one of the responses we got. While we understand that the company has been under a tremendous economic strain, we hope and believe it can do better to help us provide for all of our Times families.)
My daughter turned 16 in June. Like all kids her age, she's dying to learn how to drive. However, I can't teach her how to drive or let her drive my car if she learns at school. Why? Because I had to give up my car insurance over a year ago because I could no longer afford it.
I compensate by being an extra careful driver, but if I were to be pulled over for any reason, I wouldn't be able to produce proof of insurance (that's a ticket in the neighborhood of $100 I think).
I live in fear of getting into an accident, especially with my kids in the car, but what can I do? I have to get to work, and I have to take kids to school, etc.
I'm refinancing my house in an attempt to lower my mortgage payment, but even that probably won't be enough to cover insurance for us.
It would be irresponsible and dangerous to let an uninsured new driver loose on the road. My daughter understands the problem, and she's been very patient about it, but I know it's really hard for her to watch all her friends get their licenses when she knows she can't.
Last year, I stopped my federal withholding. I realized I really needed to have that money every month rather than get a big refund at tax time. I didn't realize the request had to be renewed annually, so it was automatically deducted when the year was up.
On that payday, I panicked. I didn't know what I was going to do because that was my grocery money. I called payroll and fixed the withholding. They said they'd put the extra money on my next check, but I explained the situation and begged them to cut me a check right away so that I would be able to buy food (which thankfully they did).
We haven't had new glasses since 2000. I have been putting it off because of the cost. The special lenses my daughter and I need cost about $120 per pair in addition to the usual $75 co-pay for optometrist/frames/lenses. So that's about $200 per pair out of pocket after taxes. Plus, I really need prescription sunglasses for driving, which would be another $200.
If I made a few less dollars a week, my children would qualify for free/reduced lunches. However, the amount that I make over the limit isn't enough to cover the cost of providing them with lunches myself. (Just to be clear, I am NOT suggesting that I'd rather be paid less, just to get free lunches for my kids!)
With gas prices almost triple what they were a couple of years ago, and milk prices creeping up towards $4/gallon unless it's on sale, "wage freeze" really means "pay cut."
I want to know how they can look me in the face and say, "We're sorry, we're cutting your salary, but please keep working just as hard... or maybe harder since there's fewer of you..."
A two-year wage freeze just feels like a slap in the face after everything we've been through in the past few years. Especially considering how the Guild recently helped the company out financially with the retirement plan.
Through it all, we've stuck with the Times because we believe in this company. Not to be crass, but isn't that worth something every other Friday?
All of us who can should speak up about this. I don't think management really has any idea of just how close to the edge some of us here at the Times are living. It's not just the ones with young shining faces who are struggling.
That was the central question of Friday's bargaining session between the Guild and Times management as the Guild team presented the company with another proposal on wages: 40 cents per hour in 2007 and 2008.
The lead question breaks down two ways.
The company is asking the Guild to "invest" in the company by accepting a wage freeze. In two years, the company says, employees might just see a return on that investment.
The Guild team believes that the company can gain vastly more value by investing in its employees. It is, after all, a very modest economic proposal.
Guild bargainer Paul Morgan again stressed the specter of retention problems should the company implement a wage freeze.
"I'm honestly worried about the company here," he said. "We all know it costs more money to replace people than it does to keep them. I think you're holding the match to a fuse that's going to light a fire under people's asses. You're going to spend a lot of money to fill the hole that remains.
"I'm afraid that this could be a terrible long-term business decision done for short-term gain."
"We believe it's an investment," Times chief negotiator Chris Biencourt said, "and it's the right thing to do."
"I see completely the opposite," Times Guild unit chair Gene Balk said.
"A wage freeze is a gamble," said Yoko Kuramoto-Eidsmoe, Guild prez.
Guild administrative office Liz Brown asked Alayne Fardella about what the company expects its condition to be in 2008.
"Hopefully better," Fardella said. "If it looks like we're not turning things around in two years, I assume people will bail.
"We're gonna have a lot to talk about in 2008."
Morgan brought up the company's decision in the late 1990s to buy the Maine newspapers, which according to Bill Richards (writing in the Seattle Weekly), put the company more than $200 million in debt. He also wondered about the company's decision to invoke the stop-loss clause in the JOA and take on Hearst in such troubling financial times.
Then he once again mentioned the pension vote and the reduction in force.
"Certain decisions have been made to put this company in the hole, and we're being asked to pull them out of it," he said. "From my perspective in the trenches, all these decisions that were made at the top are starting to affect us."
Earlier in the session, the Guild team had read aloud letters from members telling the hardships they would face in a wage freeze.
Guild bargainer Sheri Williams connected the dots.
"We're hearing stories about (employees') survival vs. the Blethen family's legacy," she said. "So that's the difference and that's the frustration."
In other news, the Guild team was briefed on the findings of the CWA accountant who was allowed to take a peek-a-boo look at the company's finances. Because of a confidentiality agreement we can't give you much detail, but we'll give you a brief report next week.
Q: I've heard there are lots of comments on the blog posts, but I can't see them. Where are they? A: At the bottom of each post on the right-hand side, there's a link that says "O comments" or "25 comments" or whatever the number is. Click on those words, and a window should come up with all the comments. You can also post your own comment there. If you prefer to see them all lined up under the original post, go to the "Previous Posts" section in the right-hand sidebar and click on the individual post name. Keep checking back, because people keep adding fantastic, insightful comments on posts that have moved down the page.
Q: Is it OK for us to come observe bargaining? A: Members are more than welcome to observe. Just knock on the door of the Vancouver Room, come in and tell us "I'm here to observe," and take a seat to the side of the table. (If we've been moved out of that room, someone using the room should know where we are.)
Q: What's that number in the right-hand sidebar? A: That's our hit count. We're up to more than 10,000 hits now! Suggested office pool: Take bets on how high the counter gets before we have a tentative agreement on the contract. Suggested amount: 45 cents per bet.
(P.S.: Who's our reader in Mount Laurel? I've figured out that Reston must be LF, but I can't think of who we know in central Jersey. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know the answer.)
Wednesday's talks between Times management and Composing-unit bargainers yielded a few more small steps toward a contract.
We agreed to:
Language that would allow Composing-unit members to join the company's long-term disability plan, if they choose to do so. (This vote would be separate from contract ratification.)
Language spelling out the circumstances under which an employee is entitled to overtime.
A change in the Memorandum of Understanding on Competency to remove an expired onetime retirement-incentive bonus.
Deletion of the addendum about conversion to a 40-hour work week. (That conversion is complete, and language has been updated throughout the contract to reflect that change.)
In addition, we're moving closer to an agreement on vacation scheduling. Management wants to change the longtime practice of having the chapel chair do initial vacation signups. They want that process to instead be handled by a manager.
We're working on language to accommodate this desire, while ensuring members that nothing else about vacation scheduling would change.
Our vacation-scheduling proposal is conditioned entirely upon the company agreeing to dues checkoff, so that members could pay Guild dues through an automatic deduction from their paychecks.
The company has rejected our current proposals on wages, additional notice in the event of a sale, and a successorship clause. (Those proposals are identical to the ones on the table in the main Guild contract.) We hope to revisit those issues in future talks.
Our next Composing-unit meeting is at 8 a.m. Monday, Aug. 21.
Paul here. In the hiatus from bargaining we thought it might be instructive to give you the big picture of how far we have come and how far we need to go. (Thanks to Pat Fry for compiling.)
First, we’ll go through what the Times management team proposed.
The thing that jumps out at me is how much we have agreed to in management’s “status quo” contract proposal. It’s hard to keep that perspective when you’re sitting at the table dickering over little things. A lot of this stuff is excruciating to read and we haven't gone into too much detail here. But try to get through it. If you feel anything needs clarifying let me know.
As you can see, there are still some, shall we say, unfortunate things the Times has refused to pull off the table. Topping the list are the wage freeze (which wasn’t reference anywhere in the proposal; wage info was simply left out), the 8 out of 10 proposal and the management functions language.
Below, we’ll take a look at what’s left on the Guild team’s plate.
4. Article 8.9 – Deletion of Zone Photo and Reporter pay transition language.
5. Article 12.1 – Changes to reporter training language.
6. Article 13.3.2 – Medical plan composite rate.Language did say it was calculated based on premiums paid each year.That has been replaced by language stating it will be “established” each year during renewal.
7. Article 13.7.1 – Long Term Disability change from 60% of salary coverage up to $5,000 a month to only $3,000 a month.
10. Article 14.8 – Flex work schedule for classes.
11. Article 14.9 – Punctuation change.
12. Article 14.11 – Delete 1 week notice for changing days off in Ad and Circ.
13. Article 14.12- Punctuation change.
14. Article 15.3 – Delete 3rd occurrence of sick leave.
*15. Article 15.3.1 – Company rejected our sick leave proposal.Guild TA’s Times counter to include a reference to sick pay policy in the contract with a “me too” clause stipulating that the Guild shall have the same benefits as unaffiliated.
16. Article 16.7.4 – Add “Washington Family Care Act”
*17. Article 16.8 – Both sides agree to withdraw their proposals
*18. Article 19.1 – Alternate means of transportation and MetroPass language.Guild TA’s
Time’s counter which eliminates MetroPass language and adds “With advance
Members are invited to attend and observe upcoming negotiations sessions. Main Guild meetings are in the Vancouver Room (Denny Building) and Composing meetings are in the Labor-Relations Conference Room (Fairview). Sessions are scheduled: