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.
- 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.