PMN to Newspaper Guild Members: Strike and We Stop Paying You
[Updated at 8 p.m. with comment from the Newspaper Guild]
Philadelphia Media Network on Tuesday informed Newspaper Guild employees what they’ll lose if they go out on strike — pay, health benefits, and maybe even unemployment compensation.
“The Company will stop contributing to your health and welfare benefits immediately,” Keith Black, the vice president of human resources, said in a widely distributed memo obtained by Philly Mag. “It is possible that you will have to pay the full cost of your benefits if you would like them to continue.”
That might not sound like news — a work stoppage often also means that compensation for work stops as well — but a poster at Inquirer Alumni Network, a Facebook page subscribed to by current and former staff, said the end to health contributions would break with precedent.
“For 46 days in 1985, the previous owners maintained our health care coverage,” the poster wrote. “This ownership … threatens to drop us like a rock on the first day.”
Amy Buckman, a spokesman for Philadelphia Media Network, confirmed Black sent the memo. She said she did not know how the benefits issue had been handled by “prior ownership.” The newspapers in 1985 were owned by Knight Ridder, a now-defunct nationwide newspaper company. PMN is currently owned by billionaire philanthropist Gerry Lenfest.
“Regardless of the history, this is a very different time and a very different industry now,” she told Philly Mag.
To be sure, Black offered conciliatory words to Guild members. “We are working hard to avoid a strike, as we do not believe that a strike will be beneficial for any of us, either in the short term or the long term,” he wrote. “We are hopeful that Guild leadership — the group who would ultimately make the decision to strike — is working with the same focus, in light of the harsh economic realities facing our industry and our Company.”
The Newspaper Guild responded with its own memo later on Tuesday.
“Better than anyone, we understand the ‘harsh economic realities facing our industry and our Company,'” Guild leaders wrote. “That’s why we worked with the company on three straight concessionary contracts. We’ve lost half our membership over the past 15 years. We’ve given up sick days, daily overtime and salary. When will the Company understand the harsh economic realities facing its employees?”
Black said the state, not PMN, would decide if striking workers are eligible for unemployment compensation during a walkout. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, which oversees the state’s unemployment insurance program, was not immediately available to comment. (UPDATE: A spokesman for the department said strikers generally do not get unemployment compensation; workers who are locked out generally do. But there could be variations in each case, she said.)
The Newspaper Guild takes its strike authorization vote Wednesday night at Loews Hotel, 12th and Market Streets.
The full memos from both sides are below:
From: Black, Keith
Sent: Tuesday, June 02, 2015 3:26 PM
Subject: Important Message – Please Read
As you are aware, the Guild has scheduled a strike authorization vote for tomorrow evening, June 3. We know that you probably have many questions about what a strike would mean to you and your families. As we have previously stated, if there is a strike, we will continue to operate both digitally and in print so that we can honor the commitments we have made to our employees, our subscribers and readers, and our advertisers, and so that we can best protect the long-term future of our Company.
We are working hard to avoid a strike, as we do not believe that a strike will be beneficial for any of us, either in the short term or the long term. We are hopeful that Guild leadership – the group who would ultimately make the decision to strike – is working with the same focus, in light of the harsh economic realities facing our industry and our Company.
While we are grateful for and appreciative of the excellent work of our journalists and staff, and the importance of their content, we are trying very hard to create a business model that is economically sustainable and which provides us with the flexibility to overcome the obstacles and seize the opportunities that we continue to face in this increasingly challenging industry.
With that said, we hope you understand that if you go on strike:
· You will not be paid;
· You probably will not be entitled to unemployment compensation (this decision is made by the state, not by PMN); and
· The Company will stop contributing to your health and welfare benefits immediately; it is possible that you will have to pay the full cost of your benefits if you would like them to continue.
If you have additional questions, we strongly encourage you to attend tomorrow night’s Guild meeting and ask for answers from your Guild leadership.
Vice-President of Human Resources
Philadelphia Media Network
And from the guild:
From: Guild Bulletin
Subject: GUILD BULLETIN: JUST THE FACTS ON TOMORROW NIGHT
As you’ve been inundated by bulletins from the Guild and the suddenly chatty company, we’d like to clarify again what’s happening tomorrow night.
Tomorrow night’s strike authorization vote is NOT a vote to strike. It is a vote to empower the Guild bargaining committee to move forward with strike preparations and get support and finance from our parent unions. We ARE NOT going on strike on Thursday. We have a contract until June 27 and we will continue to bargain in good faith. We hope to never go on strike. That’s up to the company and its willingness to make a fair contract offer.
The strike authorization vote will be held from 5-8 pm at the Loews Hotel at 12th and Market streets (33rd floor, Howe Room). All Guild members are urged to come and vote. The vote is secret ballot. The bargaining committee will be there to answer any questions. You may stay and discuss or just vote and leave.
If you are unable to attend the vote in person, you may vote by email. Hit reply to this bulletin and vote:
1) Yes, I authorize the Guild executive board to begin strike preparations
2) No, I do not authorize the Guild executive board to begin strike preparations
With regard to the latest scare tactic from VP of Human Resources, Keith Black:
The company has done NOTHING to avoid a strike. They know their contract offer is horrible.
Guild leadership does not “ultimately make the decision to strike.” You, the members vote and the International Guild and the CWA ultimately make the decision.
Better than anyone, we understand the “harsh economic realities facing our industry and our Company.” That’s why we worked with the company on three straight concessionary contracts. We’ve lost half our membership over the past 15 years. We’ve given up sick days, daily overtime and salary. When will the Company understand the harsh economic realities facing its employees?
The Company, however, not only wants your health care costs to skyrocket, they’re threatening to cancel its contributions to your health care IMMEDIATELY should we go on strike. When will the company acknowledge we are joint partners in a Taft-Hartley fund managing your health care? They used to fund it all. Now they contribute about half, the fund surplus and the members contribute the other half. When the health care fund runs out of money within the next year, with the Company’s present $500,000 proposal (the ONLY proposal the Company has made since its first proposal of $0), by year two of this contract, the members and the Company will each be paying half the cost. It will be the biggest pay cut the members at this company have ever gotten.
We do appreciate that Black is urging members to attend our meeting and ask questions because it’s become clear over the past few months that he has no interest or ability to answer any of them. Which other union was in mediation? Nothing. How did the teamsters divert money to get $7.80 an hour paid to their health fund (the Company pays $1.70/singles and $5.13/familes for Guild members)? Nothing. Were the other unions asked for seniority concessions? Nothing. Could we get the economics from the contracts of the unions who have ratified? Nothing.
We’re meeting tomorrow with the Federal mediator and the Company non-bargainers from noon until 4 pm, before we head over to the Loews. The Company owes us a counter-offer. They can end it tomorrow. Fund health care, merge Philly.com into the main unit and stop going after seniority.
PS: And if you haven’t yet signed our change.org petition, please click http://chn.ge/1JUpczq . We appreciate everyone’s support. The comments have been tremendous.