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It Must Be Contract Season

Lots of guild-vs-newspaper stuff heating up these past few weeks.

Today we report two items from this universe.

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled in a dispute between the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and the Hawaii Newspaper Guild that the paper had tried to suppress union activity during eight years of negotiations for a new contract.

During these eight years, the company fired three employees and issued a written warning to a fourth, “discriminatorily prohibited employees from wearing buttons and armbands in support of discharged or suspended employees,” and “refused to provide in a timely manner to the Union information necessary and relevant to its duties as a collective bargaining representative of employees.”

The NLRB has ordered the paper to return back pay owed from the date of their suspensions or terminations with compound interest. One of the employees was terminated way back in 2005 so this could be very interesting.

In other guild news, Thomson Reuters has been at the bargaining table with employees for two years, and the New York Newspaper Guild has finally requested a moderator to help with the “acrimonious” talks.

“As you know, the Guild and Reuters have had a great deal of difficulty in this round of negotiations,” guild prez Bill O’Meara wrote in a letter to Thomson Reuters’ legal labor counsel Jay Krupin. “You think it’s our fault, the Guild thinks it’s Reuters fault, and neither of us will convince the other that they are wrong. In situations like these, parties often turn to mediators. I think that makes sense here.”

ProJo Approves New Contract

The 250 guild-covered advertising and editorial employees at the Providence Journal yesterday approved a new three-year contract that increases the cost of health care and freezes pay, albeit temporarily, the Journal reported.

The newspaper is still picking up 80 percent of the cost of employee health care premiums (down from 85 percent in the last contract), but the sticker prices of some healthcare services will rise.

The pay freeze situation is a bit more complicated: in May 2009, all non-union employees working for the Providence Journal and parent company A.H. Belo received pay cuts from 2.5 to 15 percent.

The new contract stipulates that Guild members will not get a raise until the non-union employees’ pay is raised by at least 2.5 percent. But if non-union employees get a raise while the union members do not, the latter will get three days extra paid vacation.

“It is by no means a good contract by our standards,” said guild president John Hill. “The best you can say about it is that it is a product of its time, which for the news business right now is bad.”

NYT Guild Preps For Contract Fight

We mentioned yesterday that the New York Times Company has proposed a new contract for its newsroom employees that features a number of cuts.

Today the Newspaper Guild of New York sent out a press release stating its intention to fight the cuts.

The guild unanimously approved to set aside $1 million for a public campaign to “rally public support for journalists and other unionized staff at the New York Times.”

“Times management’s contract proposals, as they stand now, would ruin the paper,” said Guild President Bill O’Meara in a statement. “They undermine the spirit and unique commitment of the many people who produce The Times and they will accelerate the brain drain that has already resulted in the departure of many talented journalists for better opportunities. Management is leading us to a future where The Times will be more of a content farm than a place for great journalism.”

The statement also called the proposed givebacks “draconian on a scale never before experienced by the Guild or its members at The Times.”

Full release after the jump.
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New York Times Proposes Givebacks

The Newspaper Guild of New York is not happy about the New York Times’ proposed cuts to newspaper employees’ benefits and salary.

Last week during an initial bargaining session between the New York Times Company and the newspaper guild, company negotiators proposed:

  • Freezing wages for the life of the proposed two-year contract
  • Eliminating the Guild healthcare plan and moving all participants onto the non-Guild medical plan.

  • Freezing the pension plan
  • The right to assign employees to produce work for any property the Times owns or acquires

And a bunch more. The Guild says these proposals reek of hypocrisy, as “a week ago, Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Company CEO Janet Robinson declared aOur journalism is the cornerstone of our company” and they expressed appreciation for employees’ dedication and hard work.”

The Times is probably just looking to stay afloat. The paper did report profits in its latest earnings release but the company is expecting to see more declines in revenue in the months ahead, so without further expense cuts, those profits will not last long.

The current contract expires March 30.

MediaNews: ‘No Plans’ For ‘National Consolidation’ Of Copydesks

On Friday afternoon, the president of The Newspaper Guild issued a press release saying that MediaNews Group executive chairman Dean Singleton will be consolidating his papers’ copy editing, pagination, and production functions into a centralized national center.

This would not be very surprising, after all, Gannett consolidated those functions into five regional hubs, resulting in hundreds of layoffs and Media General opened three centers to save $1 million per year starting this year. But MediaNews Group, which owns the San Jose Mercury News, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and many more papers, has no such plans for a “national consolidation.”

Singleton refuted the charges and blasted the Guild for sending out an “irresponsible” press release.

However, he specifically refuted the “national consolidation,” not any consolidation, we note. And Singleton’s rebuttal ends:

While we constantly assess better ways to serve our readers in this changing and uncertain world, including the Guild in these considerations are not a part of those assessments.

The irresponsible Guild press release is a perfect example of why we don’t.

There is no future for any of us if we continue to live in the past. Someone should tell that to the Guild.

EFE Proposes Another Wage Freeze

The US-based employees of the Spanish-language news agency is proposing another year of frozen wages, reports the News Media Guild.

Wages at EFE have been frozen since 2008. The Guild had asked for a 5 percent increase and an improvement in its 401(k) matching plan, which the company rejected.

Talks will resume in February.

Seattle Times Proposes Concessions

Seattle Times management and guild leaders about a possible new contract that includes some favorable concessions for newsroom employees.

The package includes:

  • A 1.5% wage increase effective January 2011
  • Seven furlough days in 2011 (which more than negates the raise, but still)
  • Another 1.5% pay increase in 2012, with a maximum of 8 furlough days that year

It also would guarantee no layoffs and no cutting of part-timers’ hours for six months, and create a unique idea: a “furlough bank” so that any employee who takes more than the required amount would be able to apply the credits to a later furlough or donate it to an employee facing hardship.

The proposal goes to a vote January 6.

Little Progress Made In Merc Talks

Bargaining continues with the San Jose Mercury News and the San Jose Newspaper Guild.

When we last checked in with them, the company was asking guild-covered employees to accept a provision that freezes vacation accrual for the next three months.

The guild says now that this move would save the company $200,000.

The bargaining committee met last week and put forth its own counterproposal, which includes, in the guild’s words:

A 2 percent wage increase beginning June 30, 2011.
A restoration of the 401K match.
An 18-month contract expiring June 4, 2012.
Opposition to the company’s proposal to enforce five-day furloughs.

So….long way to go to meet in the middle, we suspect.

Good News In Philly, Sacramento

Two items of note on opposite ends of the country:

In Sacramento, the Bee and union-represented employees agreed to a merit increase pool of 2 percent.

This is a bit more complicated than just saying “everyone gets a 2 percent raise” but it will still amount to more pay for most employees, so, hooray.

The rest of the news at the Bee is less pleasant: the company just completed its fifth round of recent layoffs.

In Philly, the Philadelphia Newspaper Guild has gotten to consider video journalists covered under union protection. This means four employees who shoot, edit, and produce original video content will now be covered, as will future hires.

How you feel about unions may affect how you feel about this news item, but as it’s the guilds usually fighting against salary cuts and layoffs, we’re pretty sure those four folks are at least pleased to be included.

Guild Gets Involved With AP Internship Program

The News Media Guild, which represents employees of the Associated Press, has asked the AP to provide more information about the company’s internship program, which seems for all the world to be highly threatened, like possibly panda bear or white tiger levels of threatened.

The Guild asked the company for a list of employees who had gotten their start as interns (by all anecdotal accounts, there are a lot) and asked how much AP would save by eliminating the program.

“the Guild wants to bring participants to the table to talk about how it helped them,” said Martha Waggoner, bargaining committee chair.

The NMG and AP have been negotiating a new contract since October. The current contract expires today.