PHOTO: Philadelphia Newspaper Strike a Real Possibility
See updates below with PMN’s memorandum to journalists, and the guild’s commentary on that memo.
[Original] We’re still waiting to hear back on the progress of today’s scheduled negotiations between the Philadelphia Media Network and the Newspaper Guild, but we received some photographic evidence this afternoon that the guild is serious about its intent to call a strike authorization vote next week:
That was the scene this afternoon inside 8th and Market, where Philadelphia Media Network maintains the newsrooms of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. The guild represents journalists at those outlets. Our tipster was clear: No strike has been called as yet. But the signs have been printed.
In the meantime, the guild is distributing the “Fair Contract Now” stickers you see at the top of the photo. At the very least, we’re seeing the rhetoric in these negotiations ratcheted up a notch or two. The guild’s contract with PMN expires Saturday night.
[Update at 5:49 p.m.]
Stan Wischnowski, the vice president of news operations for Philadelphia Media Network, has sent a memo to the company’s journalists explaining management’s stance. See the full memo below.
“The Company is seeking efficiencies and flexibility to address opportunities and challenges faced by our industry,” he wrote. “Throughout these talks, both sides have acknowledged that we are negotiating against a very challenging economic backdrop for the news industry as well as our Company.”
What the company is seeking, he said:
• A 48% increase in the hourly rate that the Company contributes to the Guild Health & Welfare plan. The increase in contributions is in addition to the approximately $2.9 million that the Company currently contributes to the Guild’s H&W plan on an annual basis. As a result of the Company’s proposal, the Company’s hourly rate contributions would increase to $2.51 per hour for individual coverage (from the current $1.70 per hour) and $7.56 per hour for family coverage (from the current $5.13 per hour).
• Ending of furloughs and diverting the compensation associated with ending furloughs to the Guild Health & Welfare Fund.
• A three-year agreement, which we believe is significant given the current state of the industry and which we believe demonstrates the trust we have in the future of the enterprise.
• An annual profit-sharing plan based upon the Company’s net income. The Company has proposed that it would, at the Guild’s direction on an annual basis, divert any such profit sharing payments to the Guild Health & Welfare Fund.
• Creation of minimum wage scales and annual step levels for Philly.com employees – as well as the addition of nearly a dozen articles from the main unit contract.
• A one-year no layoff guarantee (retroactive to the expiration date of the existing agreement, February 9, 2015).
• Compensation to Guild newsroom members who take on added responsibilities covering management functions on weekends.
• Modified reduction in force language which permits the Company to exercise some discretion in making layoff decisions, rather than simply utilizing the traditional “last in, first out” approach, in the event that a future reduction in force becomes necessary.
Wischnowski concluded: “Our mission of creating award-winning journalism that our readers demand and deserve can only be realized if we create a business model that is truly sustainable and positions us to be an agile and nimble enterprise, designed to meet the ever-changing challenges and opportunities we face in the years ahead.”
The full memo.
[Update 7:17 p.m.] The Guild has responded to Wischnowski’s memo with one of its own.
A couple of key points:
• On the company’s health care proposal: “The Company wants to pretend that it is offering a “48% increase in the hourly rate that the Company contributes to the Guild Health & Welfare plan.” What they are actually offering is a 4% pay cut. The money they claim they will add to the Health & Welfare Fund is the money that they WILL NOT pay you to work the two furlough weeks – even though you will be working. Yes, you read that correctly: In the Company’s latest proposal you will work your furlough weeks for no additional pay.”
• On the possibility of extending the current contract a month to keep negotiating: ” Extending the contract for another 30 days does nothing for the Guild or its members. It just adds another month of stress to everyone’s already stressed-out day. The Company has had months to address the health care under-funding problem and done nothing.”
• On the possibility of weakening seniority provisions that protect older workers from layoffs: “The Guild continues to favor the traditional “last in, first out” approach. It worked for 70 years, it worked when this was a billion-dollar company, and the Company has not indicated any way that changing this layoff language would make the Company one more nickel or even one more Digital Dime.”
The full memobe
Subject: GUILD BULLETIN: IN RESPONSE TO THE COMPANY SPIN
Just because a company says it is bargaining in “good faith,” does not mean it is. For six months company negotiators did not move off their union-busting, poverty-inducing proposals and then when the Guild began to ramp up our efforts to explain the truth, the company spent the last two days revising its proposals. And each day they got worse.
So in the interest of clarity, today’s Guild bulletin will consist of a Stan Wischnowski-to-English dictionary, responding to their points.
1) The Company has made no “offer” to the Union. The company has made proposals, a few of which we have accepted, most of which, especially the big ones, we have rejected. If the Company believes its contract “offer” is fair and Guild negotiators are being unreasonable in our requests to keep seniority, not get killed on health care costs and get Philly.com employees treated fairly, let them present their “offer” as final and let it be presented to the membership. We believe it will go down to defeat worse than Tony Williams.
2) The company has NOT reviewed a “wide range of issues and potential solutions with your Union bargaining committee.” All of the company’s solutions involve us giving back – seniority protection, wages, etc. The only problem the Company is trying to solve? How to lay off people regardless of seniority.
3) Extending the contract for another 30 days does nothing for the Guild or its members. It just adds another month of stress to everyone’s already stressed-out day. The Company has had months to address the health care under-funding problem and done nothing. The Health & Welfare Fund has had three trustee meetings since Human Resources Vice President Keith Black was named a company trustee and Mr. Black has said nothing. As our June 1 Aetna renewal approaches and the Company has frittered away another contract extension, now the Company wants to redesign the health care plan under the pressure of contract bargaining, when plan design is legally a function of the plan trustees.
4) One area where we agree with the Company is that threats of a strike won’t solve the serious problems we face. If the company wants to avoid strike threats, it should come to the table with a contract offer that its employees will be able to live on.
Now to Stan’s bullet points:
The Company wants to pretend that it is offering a “48% increase in the hourly rate that the Company contributes to the Guild Health & Welfare plan.” What they are actually offering is a 4% pay cut. The money they claim they will add to the Health & Welfare Fund is the money that they WILL NOT pay you to work the two furlough weeks – even though you will be working. Yes, you read that correctly: In the Company’s latest proposal you will work your furlough weeks for no additional pay. Philly.com employees, who get no furlough weeks now, will simply get a 4% pay cut. The Company is not ADDING any new money to their original $500,000 Health & Welfare contribution. They’re adding YOUR money – the money they were going to pay you to work your furlough weeks.
Yes, the Company now contributes approximately $2.9 million to the Guild’s Health & Welfare Fund. A little more than two years ago they were contributing more than $4.5 million. What Stan leaves out is that the cost of the plan we now have is going up to $6.3 million in June. The Company’s solutions? Either weaken the plan enough to make it affordable (with incredibly high deductibles and co-pays for members) or have members pick up the tab for what the plan costs now. That’s where the $6,000 to $14,000 increase comes from.
The Company is proud of its willingness to offer a three-year deal and in spirit we agree, but it doesn’t matter how long the contract is if members can’t afford to work here.
The profit-sharing? That was our idea and is in the present contract. However, given that Mr. Wischnowski said first quarter results were “horrible,” we’re not confident that Company management will be announcing any profits next year. Maybe if they get more layoffs – a matter of when, not if, Stan said.
The Company has agreed to our proposal to create minimum wage scales and annual step levels for Philly.com employees – as well as the addition of nearly a dozen articles from the main unit contract, but the Guild does not feel they’ve gone far enough to make Philly.com competitive in today’s marketplace.
We support the Company’s willingness to agree to a one-year no layoff guarantee (it was our proposal), but we believe it should begin if the contract is ever ratified and not be retroactive to Feb. 9, 2015.
The Company only agreed to “compensate Guild newsroom members who take on added responsibilities covering management functions on weekends,” after it was pointed out to them that the management person hired to work those weekend shifts would no longer be working them.
Yeah, we know, they want to modify “reduction in force language which permits the Company to exercise some discretion in making layoff decisions.” The Guild continues to favor the traditional “last in, first out” approach. It worked for 70 years, it worked when this was a billion-dollar company, and the Company has not indicated any way that changing this layoff language would make the Company one more nickel or even one more Digital Dime.
That they even had the nerve to bring up the notion that seniority “only serves to protect low performers” is insulting. We won’t even address it. What “is unfair to the individuals who strive to help our organization succeed into the future” is being subject to the whims of age-old grudges and the vague subjectivity of holding professionals to trends that change faster than the wind. What other newspaper organizations across the country have done with seniority is irrelevant: Those newspaper companies have healthy pension funds that are not going to run out in 11 years.
If the Company is “fully committed to reaching an agreement with the Guild that is fair to our employees” then bring it on. We’ve been waiting for six months.