Milwaukee Newspaper Guild members Wednesday ratified a new three-year contract with Journal Sentinel Inc. by a vote of 46-23.
It was the closest vote on a contract in our local’s history. Only the margin of approval on the 2009 wage cut — which at the time was an interim agreement rather than part of a full-scale contract — was slightly narrower.
The vote reflected significant misgivings about the concessions in job security, wage structure and health care included in this deal. During the extensive debate over the agreement, even the deal’s supporters said they would only reluctantly vote for a contract that, between now and 2014, will reduce our severance pay from two weeks to one week for each year of service; end the requirement for 60 days’ notice or 60 days’ pay in downsizings; and eliminate the 35% cap on the employees’ share of health insurance premiums, with no guarantee that Guild-represented employees will ever again be paid as much as we earned in early 2009.
Only one guaranteed raise is included in this deal: A 2% across-the-board increase from current pay rates. That raise, along with a smattering of merit raises from a 0.5% pool, will be retroactive to July 8. Any future raises in 2013 and 2014 would be linked to raises for non-represented employees and would be divided between across-the-board and merit raises, with a growing share of the pot tilting toward the merit side. But minimum pay rates will be cut by 2.4%, reflecting the 6.6% pay cut of 2009, the 2.2% across-the-board increase of 2011 and this year’s 2% across-the-board increase.
Nonetheless, our bargaining committee was able to stave off management’s push for even larger concessions, including provisions that would have allowed the company to target the highest-paid journalists for layoffs, would have removed the requirement to show an economic justification for downsizing and would have granted managers complete control over all pay raises. We won some very modest improvements in a few areas, including vacation, where we also escaped a company policy that would have restricted our ability to carry over vacation weeks to future years.
The contract expires at the end of 2014.