Journalists “Not Willing to Budge” in Newspaper Labor Stalemate

Negotiations between guild and IGM hinge on seniority requirements for workers.

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Labor negotiations between the journalists union and the company that owns Philly’s two largest daily newspapers have taken a “grim turn,” the union announced this week.

Talks have faltered, union officials say, over Interstate General Media’s attempt to weaken “last in, first out” seniority rules for laying off reporters during times of financial crisis at the newspapers. The result? The company has reportedly withdrawn its pay-and-benefits proposals it had hoped would govern the next contract.

“I would say they’re not going that well,” Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild and Daily News gossip columnist, said of the negotiations.

Stan Wischnowski, vice president of news operations for IGM, did not immediately respond to phone and email inquiries for comment. The contract between the company and reporters expired February 8th; it has mutually been extended to February 22nd.

Gensler told Philly Mag that IGM negotiators were intent on “weakening” contractual seniority requirements believed to protect the jobs of older, more expensive workers when layoffs arrive.

“We’re not willing to budge,” Gensler said.

He said the company’s pay and benefits proposal includes no raises for reporters. Journalists had been required to take two weeks of unpaid furlough per year; those paid workweeks would be restored — but, for most workers, the extra pay would be offset by higher health insurance costs that the company wants to shift to employees. The result, Gensler said, would be a pay cut for all but the highest-paid union employees at the papers.

Even if union leaders agreed to all the conditions on the table, Gensler said, it’s unlikely rank-and-file reporters of the Newspaper Guild would approve a deal that combines seniority loss with an economic hit.

“How the hell do you ratify that contract?” Gensler said. “Who votes for that?”

He said the union had offered concessions to give IGM greater flexibility in moving reporters around — from, say, the Daily News to the Inquirer — as well as wider latitude to hire freelancers.

The two sides are taking a weeklong break from negotiations to cool off. In the meantime, Gensler said, there’s no expectation the differences will result in a work stoppage of any kind.

“At this point our side is not talking about a work stoppage. Eventually, we’ve got to get a deal,” Gensler said. “I think both sides realize that, given the industry pain at the moment, a work stoppage on our side or lockout on their side would be far more detrimental to the business than what it would accomplish.”

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