Newspaper Strike Vote Possible Next Week
Updated at 8:50 p.m. with comment from Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild.
Journalists at the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com could vote as soon as next Wednesday whether to authorize a strike against the company.
Negotiators for the Newspaper Guild, which represents those journalists, said in a Wednesday evening memorandum that an impasse over seniority and health care costs continue, and that they will not extend the guild’s contract with the company when it expires this weekend.
“The company’s offer for main unit employees now stands at: No raises, higher healthcare costs for worse coverage and weakened seniority,” negotiators said.
“If we can’t reach an agreement, please check your email over the weekend regarding what to do Monday should the contract expire Sunday night and be prepared for a Strike Authorization vote on Wednesday or Thursday of next week.”
“Our negotiating team is continuing to work with the mediator and Guild to try to find solutions to the remaining issues,” Amy Buckman, a spokesman for Philadelphia Media Network, said in an email to Philadelphia magazine. PMN owns all three news organizations.
How realistic is a strike threat? “I’ve never seen the membership more mobilized in the 15 years I’ve been here with the guild,” Bill Ross, the guild’s executive director, said Wednesday night. He said guild members would “never accept” the company’s current health insurance proposal.
“They’re done making any type of concessions,” he said of his membership. “Our members won’t be able to survive if the company gets what it’s looking for.”
As we’ve reported, 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. (Related: Philly.com employees are on a separate contract from the print employees; the guild wants a single contract for all three units, but the company is reportedly resisting that proposal.)
The other sticking point? Health insurance. The guild said in its memorandum that PMN will present a new proposal on Thursday, but union negotiators already say it’s unacceptable — resulting in higher deductibles, higher pharmacy co-pays, and higher weekly contributions from employees.
“After $20 million in Guild givebacks over the past three contracts this is the way the company wants to pay you back,” the negotiating team said in the memorandum. “They just don’t get it.”
The two sides have been meeting with a mediator. The guild said PMN has asked for three additional bargaining sessions through Saturday.
The full memorandum below:
Subject: GUILD BULLETIN: COMPANY MOVES ON HEALTH CARE – NOW IT’S WORSE!
Newspaper Guild bargainers met today with the mediator and company negotiators Keith Black and Stan Wischnowski for 5 ½ hours and the company’s big move came in a proposal for our underfunded health care plan: They want it to cost you more and cover you less.
The other key aspects of the Company’s proposal remain the same: No matter how many times we have told them we’re not moving on seniority, not giving them their 5 FREE KILLS annually, they have refused to take this issue off the table. The company also remains unwilling to merge philly.com into the main unit with main unit salaries and protections.
As for health care, the company has decided that since it won’t properly fund the health care plan which exists, it would cheapen the plan to make it more affordable – for the company! Details of the plan will be presented to us tomorrow. With the contract expiring Sunday and fears of a walkout on the horizon, they now want to meet Thursday, Friday and Saturday, after previously not wanting to meet at all this week. A sample of what they’re expected to bring to the table, however, will include higher deductibles, higher pharmacy co-pays and a Guild member coinsurance payment of 20% AFTER the deductible (Guild members now pay nothing once they meet their deductible). Even this plan will most likely mean an increase in your weekly contributions (we expect to find out how much more tomorrow), and the higher deductibles will be crushing should any of you need your insurance for anything more serious than a check-up. Maximum out-of-pocket expenses in a plan like this for a single could be as high as $6,660 and for a family as high as $12,700 – ON TOP OF YOUR INCREASED WEEKLY DEDUCTIONS!
After $20 million in Guild givebacks over the past three contracts this is the way the company wants to pay you back.
They just don’t get it.
So to recap, the company’s offer to philly.com employees stands at: Minimal annual step increases maxing out at $50K, higher health care costs for worse coverage and no seniority.
The company’s offer for main unit employees now stands at: No raises, higher health care costs for worse coverage and weakened seniority.
The Guild will be providing “FAIR CONTRACT NOW” stickers over the next few days. If we can’t reach an agreement, please check your email over the weekend regarding what to do Monday should the contract expire Sunday night and be prepared for a Strike Authorization vote on Wednesday or Thursday of next week.