Sara Martinez is the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild's new human rights coordinator. The Guild's Executive Board this week named Martinez, a Journal Sentinel page designer, to replace JS Online producer Jenn Amur, who was previously elected 1st vice president. Board members also decided to keep the same jurisdictions for the three steward leaders reappointed in October. That means copy editor Greg Pearson will remain in charge of contract enforcement, membership, mobilizing and stewards for sports, features/entertainment and opinions, with copy editor Russ Maki for news operations, JS Online, photo and graphics, and business reporter Tom Content for local news, business and the watchdog team.
Two of the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild's most experienced leaders are taking on new responsibilities. Greg Pearson, a former Local 51 president who was also our longest-serving grievance vice president, has been named postings and exclusions coordinator. Pearson, a copy editor, succeeds former metro reporter Larry Sandler, who left the Journal Sentinel staff in a buyout. Karen Samelson, an at-large Executive Board member who until recently was our longest-serving membership vice president, is our new communications chair. Samelson, a copy editor, is trading places with page designer Zeina Makky, who was elected last month to succeed Samelson as 2nd vice president. Pearson and Samelson were among those appointed at the newly elected board's first meeting earlier this week. The board also picked metro reporter Annysa Johnson, an at-large board member, as health and safety coordinator, filling a post that had been vacant since copy editor John Schumacher moved up to treasurer late last year. Reappointed were business reporter Tom Content, copy editor Russ Maki and Pearson, as steward leaders; metro reporter Jan Uebelherr, as social chair; investigative reporter Gina Barton, as good and welfare chair; PolitiFact Wisconsin reporter Dave Umhoefer, as wage data coordinator; copy editor Mike Johnson, as benefits coordinator; copy editor Jen Steele, as newsletter editor; and JSOnline production coordinator Craig Nickels as Webmaster. Content is also the local's secretary and Uebelherr is also an at-large board member. Steward leader jurisdictions remain under review, while the vice presidents and steward leaders are starting the process of choosing stewards.
Three new officers will join the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild leadership team on Monday. The local's members have elected online producer Jenn Amur as 1st vice president, in charge of contract enforcement; page designer Zeina Makky as 2nd vice president, in charge of membership and mobilizing; and business reporter Tom Content as secretary. Amur has been a board member, bargaining committee member and human rights coordinator. She succeeds former feature writer Mary-Liz Shaw, who left the paper in a buyout earlier this year. Makky has been a board member, communications chair and steward. She succeeds copy editor Karen Samelson, who was elected to an at-large board seat after a record four full terms and one partial term as our membership chair. Content is a two-term steward leader who also has served as a bargaining committee member and steward. He succeeds metro reporter Annysa Johnson, who was elected as an at-large board member after one term as secretary. Members also re-elected sportswriter Tom Silverstein, to his third term as president; copy editor John Schumacher, to his first full term as treasurer; and metro reporter Jan Uebelherr, to her sixth full non-consecutive term as an at-large board member. In other action at our annual meeting Tuesday, members:
- Elected Silverstein and Amur as our delegates to The Newspaper Guild's 2013 international sector conference, with Makky, Content, Samelson and Uebelherr as alternates.
- Picked Silverstein as our delegate to the 2013 international convention of our parent union, the Communications Workers of America, with Amur, Makky, Content, Samelson and Uebelherr as alternates.
- Renewed the rebate provision that keeps our dues at 1% of our base pay.
Five newsroom employees are leaving the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in the latest round of voluntary buyouts. It's the second such staffing cut this year, following an earlier buyout in which three newsroom employees departed. All eight workers were represented by the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild, and they came from six different newsroom departments. But because the departures were offset by a few new hires, the net reduction to our bargaining unit for the year to date is slightly less. Both the spring and fall buyouts were available to workers throughout Journal Sentinel Inc. The Guild has not received any definitive information on how many workers from other parts of the company took either buyout. No newsroom layoffs followed the spring buyout, and newsroom management has assured Guild leadership that no layoffs are planned to follow this buyout, either. Last year, a buyout fell short of a never-announced staff reduction target, and the company laid off two newsroom employees -- including one from our bargaining unit -- in addition to the four Guild-represented workers who took buyouts.
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.
Milwaukee Newspaper Guild members will vote Wednesday on a proposed new three-year contract with Journal Sentinel Inc. The tentative agreement includes significant concessions in job security, wage structure and health care. Those concessions, however, are not as great as the givebacks management negotiators originally sought. Our bargaining team has told members that we believe this deal is the best we could achieve under the circumstances. If the local's membership votes to approve the deal, this is what the new contract would provide: Wages: Effective July 8, everyone’s wages would increase 2% from current levels, along with a merit pool of 0.5%. For 2013, if the company provides raises for non-represented employees, we would receive the same percentage increase, with 60% as across-the-board raises and 40% as a merit pool; for 2014, that split would be 40% across-the-board raises and 60% merit pool. In each of those years, we would get nothing if the non-represented employees get nothing. The scale of minimum pay rates would be reduced by 2.4%, reflecting the 6.6% wage cut of 2009, minus the across-the-board raises of 2.2% last year and 2% this year. All language referring to restoration of the wages lost in 2009 would be eliminated. (In the 2009 pay cut, the company was allowed to cut employees' pay below minimum, but the minimum rates remained in force for new hires.) Unlike the merit pools before 2009, when virtually everyone received some kind of merit raise every year, management would have more power to deny merit raises. But company negotiators fell short of winning language that would have allowed managers to hand out raises only to star reporters and ignore others whose work is vital to the newspaper. If our merit pool is 1% or less, management would have broad discretion over how to distribute it. But they would have to distribute it equitably among the various occupational groups in the newsroom — writers, copy editors, designers/artists, photographers/picture editors, online producers/web app developers, assistant editors and support staffers. If our merit pool is more than 1%, management would have to give merit raises to at least 85% of the employees in our bargaining unit. Everyone would be notified in writing of whether they received a merit raise and, if so, how much the raise was. Instead of one merit pool for full-timers and one for part-timers, we would have one pool for full-time journalists and one for everyone else, ending a situation where full-time support staffers' wages were used to help calculate the size of a merit pool from which they received a disproportionately low share. Management failed in its attempt to create an "all-merit" pay system, without any across-the-board raises, while we were unable to achieve our goal of fully restoring the wages cut in 2009. Job security: For 2012, we would keep severance pay of two weeks per year of service, as well as 60 days' advance notice — or 60 days' pay — for downsizings. Severance pay would be reduced to 1.5 weeks per year in 2013 and one week per year in 2014, with notice pay ending as of Jan. 1, 2013. However, starting in 2013, the company would have to pay a minimum of eight weeks' severance to anyone who was downsized, regardless of seniority. All buyouts would have to offer better terms than what we would receive in a layoff. (Current language says buyout offers must be no less than the severance payout.) Anyone who is laid off or takes a buyout and is rehired within a year would be paid no less than their old wage and would return with their seniority intact for such purposes as calculating vacation and advancement up the wage scale. Our committee was able to block management's attempt to delete the requirement that the company have an economic justification for layoffs. We also turned back language that would have allowed managers to target highly paid workers for layoffs. Health care: For 2012, we would keep the current 35% cap on employees' share of premium costs. Starting in 2013, that cap would be eliminated. (Only smokers' rates are currently bumping up against the cap; non-smokers pay somewhere around 25%, give or take.) Vacation: Employees who are laid off or take a buyout after using more vacation than they earned under the pay-as-you-go system would not be required to pay back the company for the excess vacation time taken. Part-timers hired after 2005 would get five weeks of vacation after 20 years of service. Under the old contract, they were the only ones in our bargaining unit who were ineligible for the fifth week. Everyone at the 20-year level would still be able to roll over their fifth week of vacation to future years. By contrast, non-represented employees are subject to a new vacation policy that would eliminate that practice. Reuse: Payments to photographers and artists for commercial resale of their work would end. (Those payments had declined from thousands of dollars a year to hundreds — and sometimes nothing -- to each photographer in recent years.) Everyone who contributes to a book still would receive a share of the proceeds, but if the book is a reprint of just one employee's work, the company would have more power to decide that person's share without truly negotiating. Other changes:
- When full-timers transfer to part-time, their hourly wages could not be cut if their duties remained substantially the same. Also, they could ask the company for calculations of how their vacation time would be affected by the transfer, and the company could provide additional leave if they came up short because they switched between the earn-as-you-go and accrue-in-advance vacation systems. Both provisions address issues that staffers have encountered in such transfers.
- The Guild could offer feedback to the company on ergonomic issues. Any training to improve ergonomic practices would be conducted on company time and at company expense.
- A Guild representative would be able to meet with a company representative at least once a year to discuss employee concerns about the 401(k) plan.
Jenn Amur has been named to the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild's Executive Board. Current board members picked Amur, a JSOnline producer, to fill Journal Sentinel copy editor John Schumacher's seat as an at-large board member. Schumacher has been appointed treasurer, to replace former deputy business editor Bob Helbig, who left in last fall's buyout but agreed to remain in office during the transition to a new treasurer. Both the Schumacher and Amur appointments take effect Feb. 1 and last until the next membership meeting, when Guild members will have an opportunity to vote on filling the seats through the Sept. 30 end of the board term. The date of that meeting has not been set, but will be in the first quarter of this year. Amur has served as the Guild's human rights coordinator since October. The board also named investigative reporter Gina Barton as Good & Welfare Committee chair. Barton replaces Amy Rabideau Silvers, a metro reporter who left the newspaper this week to take another job. Silvers, a former board member, was the first person to chair the committee, created last spring.
John Schumacher is on track to become the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild's next treasurer. The Guild's Executive Board has picked Schumacher, a Journal Sentinel copy editor, to succeed Bob Helbig in the treasurer's post, effective Feb. 1. Helbig, a former deputy business editor, took a buyout last fall but remained a Guild member and agreed to continue in office during the transition to a new treasurer. Schumacher was elected as an at-large board member in September and later was appointed as health and safety coordinator. He previously served as a steward. His appointment as treasurer will last until the next membership meeting. At that time, Guild members will vote on filling the treasurer's post through the Sept. 30 end of Helbig's term. If Schumacher is elected, the membership also will vote on filling his board seat for the remainder of the term. That meeting has not been set but likely will be in the first quarter of 2012. Helbig is a former local president who has been our longest-serving treasurer, racking up nearly eight years in three non-consecutive stints. His most recent tour of duty started in May, when he traded his at-large board seat with then-Treasurer Amy Hetzner, a former metro reporter who later took a buyout.
Greg Pearson is back in the leadership ranks of the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild. The Guild’s Executive Board has named Pearson, the local's former president, as a steward leader. Pearson, a Journal Sentinel copy editor who served most recently as a steward, now oversees stewards, contract enforcement, membership and mobilizing for the sports, features/entertainment and opinions staffs. He replaces metro reporter Tom Held, who left in the buyout. The board reappointed the other two steward leaders: copy editor Russ Maki, to a fourth term serving the copy, design, graphics and national desks and the photo and JSOnline staffs, and business reporter Tom Content, to a second term serving the downtown metro and business news desks and Wisconsin news bureaus. Other new appointments include PolitiFact Wisconsin reporter Dave Umhoefer as wage data coordinator, succeeding deputy business editor Bob Helbig, who left in the buyout; metro reporter Mike Johnson as benefits coordinator, succeeding business reporter Kathleen Gallagher; copy editor John Schumacher as health and safety coordinator, succeeding Umhoefer; and JSOnline producer Jenn Amur as human rights coordinator, a previously vacant position. Schumacher is also a board member. Reappointed were page designer Zeina Makky as communications chair, feature writer Jan Uebelherr as social chair, metro reporter Amy Rabideau Silvers as good and welfare chair, copy editor Jen Steele as newsletter editor, online producer Craig Nickels as Webmaster, metro reporter Larry Sandler as posting and exclusions coordinator and assistant features/entertainment editor Stan Miller as tech coordinator. Uebelherr and Makky are also board members. All of those appointed will serve one-year terms, until next October. The steward leaders and Vice Presidents Mary-Liz Shaw and Karen Samelson are now selecting stewards.
A new round of buyouts and involuntary downsizing has eliminated six jobs in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newsroom, including five represented by the Milwaukee Newspaper Guild. Journal Sentinel Inc. management has not announced the total number of positions eliminated throughout all newspaper departments, but some sources indicate it could be more than two dozen. The staff reductions were completed during the past week. The latest cuts mark a return to what had become a troubling trend. During 2009 alone, buyouts and layoffs cut the newsroom work force by one-third. But no downsizing had touched our bargaining unit since then. "I'm hoping we can keep our current numbers stable, but as we've seen the company is willing to squeeze the newsroom any time it feels like its financial numbers aren't up to snuff," Guild President Tom Silverstein told members. "I remain dismayed that, with few exceptions, the newsroom cuts have been aimed at bargaining-unit employees and not management." The most recent staff reductions started with the August announcement that the company was offering buyouts to newsroom, production and circulation employees. Managers did not indicate the buyouts were a prelude to involuntary cuts. But when the buyouts fell short of a target that had never been announced, the buyout window was extended for newsroom employees only, with a warning that layoffs could follow. Most of those who left the newsroom took voluntary buyouts. The Guild contract requires the company to offer buyouts to our bargaining-unit members before sending out layoff notices, and the buyout packages must be no less favorable than the contractually required severance deal of two weeks' pay for each year of service. By contrast, in some departments where employees are not represented by unions, the company moved directly to involuntary cuts without offering buyouts. In contract negotiations now under way, the company is seeking to eliminate all severance pay guarantees, while the Guild is seeking to preserve the current severance level.