Inky Union Says Strike Authorization Vote Possible

"We are starting to see no other options."

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

[Update 7:20 p.m.] Stan Wischnowski, vice president of news operations for Philadelphia Media Network, responds by email: “We don’t agree at all with how the Guild has characterized these negotiations through their bulletins. We recognize that there are important issues still to be resolved and we’re working very diligently to find solutions that will better position the company and our employees for the challenges and opportunities ahead.”

[Original 5:46 p.m.] The union that represents journalists at the Inquirer, Daily News, and says it’s ready to call for a strike authorization vote if bargaining doesn’t produce a breakthrough in the next week.

“Our final scheduled mediation session is Wednesday morning,” the Newspaper Guild’s negotiating committee said in a Friday afternoon memorandum to its members at the Philadelphia Media Network. (See the full memorandum below.) “If the company again refuses to come with anything concrete to discuss, our only alternatives will be the filing of an Unfair Labor Practice charge and a strike authorization vote.”

A spokesman for Philadelphia Media Network did not return repeated calls for comment.

Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild and a gossip columnist at the Daily News, said that two dozen negotiating sessions — including four with a mediator — had produced no progress. The guild’s contract originally expired Feb. 8; journalists at the company have been working under a series of contract extensions since then. The current extension ends on May 24.

The guild doesn’t want another extension after that, Gensler said.

“It’s not a strike vote. It’s a vote to authorize the executive board to consider a strike if there are no other options,” he said of the proposed action.

But he acknowledged: “It’s fair to say we are starting to see no other options.”

The two sides have reportedly been hung up over two main issues. PMN has reportedly asked the union for increased latitude in making future layoffs — so that seniority-driven “last-hired, first-fired” rules would be set aside to let management pick and choose which reporters stay and which go. The guild has promised not to budge on that issue.

Perhaps a greater sticking point, though, is how the guild and management will split up health care costs for employees. The guild’s current Health & Welfare fund renews on June 1 with a $2.5 million deficit. The. e company has offered to pay a half-million of that, Gensler said. That would leave each journalist looking at paying between $4,500 and $8,000 extra a year in health insurance costs.

Given that PMN journalists have worked 12 years without a raise — all while accepting pay cuts and furloughs along the way — Gensler said the health proposal is unacceptable.

“We can’t afford to go backwards anymore,” he said. “No matter how much you love your job .. you can’t afford it. Your rents aren’t going down, college tuition isn’t going down.”

PMN officials have generally declined to discuss negotiations. But Gensler suggested the guild is moving toward a breaking point.

“”Our members are frustrated,” he said. “The company seems to be doing better. … If the company is doing better, some of that needs to be reflected in the bargaining.”

The next mediation session is Wednesday morning.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

The guild memo:



The Guild returned to mediation today with the hope that the company would arrive with the proposals requested by the Federal Mediator to finally – after 25+ sessions – move the process along.

Instead, company negotiators brought a new issue to the table – a desire to change and presumably cheapen your health care plan, which renews June 1. When pressed for details on their proposed changes, they had nothing but a desire to cancel next Wednesday’s mediation session and extend the present contract another 30 days.

In the very week that the company announced a board of directors, three years of positive cash flow and the launch of a new business section for what was described as a “reborn” Inquirer, the Guild hoped today’s session would carry the positive momentum forward. The company, however, only wanted to engage in more expensive time-wasting by offering not one single idea or proposal in three hours.

Why is it expensive?

As the company knows well because the new VP for Human Resources and a VP for Finance are trustees on our joint Health & Welfare Fund, the plan renews on June 1 with a 14 percent increase, leaving the Fund approximately $2.5 million short of its annual needs to pay for the benefit. The company has offered only $500,000 to fill that gap – a number it has not moved from since bargaining began – forcing the Fund to pick up the deficit as it has for the past two years. The Fund, however, will run out of money in less than a year, so if the company sticks with its $500,000 offer, Guild members will be forced to pick up the $2 million difference. This will be an unmanageable expense for most members (between $4,000 and $8,500 additional for the FIRST year, depending on coverage, with further increases likely every year thereafter) and also leave the company subject to Affordable Care Act penalties.

So what was their plan today with only two weeks until the new rates kick in? After company Health & Welfare trustees chose not to address this issue at the last Health & Welfare meeting and conference call, now they want to change the plan to make it more affordable FOR THEM, which can only mean worse coverage FOR YOU.

Only, they had no specifics, nothing to discuss – they remain habitually unprepared to accomplish ANYTHING ­– and, regardless, any plan changes would require the approval of the Health & Welfare trustees.

Our contract extension expires May 24. At this time the Guild bargaining committee has told the company we do not want another extension. We want to start bargaining.

Our final scheduled mediation session is Wednesday morning. If the company again refuses to come with anything concrete to discuss, our only alternatives will be the filing of an Unfair Labor Practice charge and a strike authorization vote.

In solidarity,

Howard Gensler
Bill Ross
Diane Mastrull
Cindy Burton
Melanie Burney
Regina Medina
Brian McCrone