Newspaper Guild Accuses Lenfest of Stirring Trouble With Bonus Announcement

"Who does that? What purpose does it serve?"

inquirer-daily-news-philly-com-940x540

Gerry Lenfest was trying to stir trouble when he announced Wednesday that some — but not all — employees of Philadelphia Media Network will get a $1,000 bonus, the Newspaper Guild said in an angry memo to members Thursday.

“It was the equivalent of your boss coming to you and telling you that your colleague was getting something and you weren’t,” Guild leaders wrote. “In a workplace seeking harmony and cooperation, that values trust, respect and honest communication, who does that? What purpose does it serve?”

A spokeswoman for Philadelphia Media Network said the company would have no comment.

The ruckus started Wednesday when Lenfest, the owner and publisher at PMN — which owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com — sent employees an announcement that they would be receiving a $1,000 bonus. Except for the Newspaper Guild members, he said: Per contract negotiations, those employees — including journalists, ad sales, and support staffers — would get a $1,000 contribution to their health insurance plan instead.

Guild leaders said Thursday they were told of the possibility of bonuses during the final day of contract negotiations.

They wrote: “The Guild was told that all the unions would get a signing bonus of $1,000 when they ratified their contracts. Since we were still short on our health care number … we asked to put that $1,000 per member into our health care fund. We first asked if the Company would give the $1,000 signing bonus to individual Guild members not enrolled in the health care fund, but the Company refused. It was all or nothing. Since nearly 90 percent of our members are in our health care fund, we chose to apply the money there.”

Though the two sides recently signed a two-year contract, it seems as though labor peace may not be at hand at Philadelphia’s biggest media company. The Newspaper Guild, naturally, is blaming management for that.

“The key to becoming ‘the best regional news organization in America’ will depend on the Company working as one,” Guild leaders wrote. “Not by pitting employee against employee and union against union.”

Original memo below:

From: Guild Bulletin <guildbulletin@local-10.com>
Subject: GUILD BULLETIN: NOTHING “SPECIAL” ABOUT BONUS

A few points regarding the message Keith Black sent out for Gerry Lenfest yesterday.

The message was meant to be confusing and rile you up. How do we know? We were asked a few weeks ago whether Mr. Lenfest’s message should be sent to Guild members and we said no. It didn’t apply to Guild members. It was the equivalent of your boss coming to you and telling you that your colleague was getting something and you weren’t.

In a workplace seeking harmony and cooperation, that values trust, respect and honest communication, who does that? What purpose does it serve?

When it came to the Guild asking the company for information about the trade union contracts, there was nothing. No one knew anything. Contracts were just magically negotiated and ratified. But when it came to the trades (and independents) getting a bonus, that the company felt compelled to tell Guild members.

Again, who does that? What purpose does it serve?

That said, here are the actual details of what went down at bargaining and why the Guild bargaining committee did what we did:

That “one-time special bonus” Mr. Lenfest refers to is actually a signing bonus that was discussed for the first time on the last day of bargaining. The Guild was told that all the unions would get a signing bonus of $1,000 when they ratified their contracts. Since we were still short on our health care number – because the company refuses to fund Guild member health care at the same rate it funds that of some of the trade unions – we asked to put that $1,000 per member into our health care fund. We first asked if the Company would give the $1,000 signing bonus to individual Guild members not enrolled in the health care fund, but the Company refused. It was all or nothing. Since nearly 90 percent of our members are in our health care fund, we chose to apply the money there.

Economically, the reason is simple. As a pre-tax contribution, the fund got the full $1,000 for each member. If the member was to get the money as a bonus, it would be taxed. So your health care could have gone up as much as $1,000 (the shortfall from not putting in the money) but you would have only received approximately $600 in “bonus” money after taxes to pay for that increase. Additionally, the $435,000 paid to the health care fund upon ratification, will grow and earn interest for the next year, helping to offset next year’s health care increase. The notion that this was some goodwill money offered as a gift is deliberately misleading. It was part of bargaining. The $1,000 had been offered to the trades as a “signing bonus” because the Guild got back furlough weeks and Philly.com got step raises and other benefits. Managers knew they were getting the $1,000 bonus weeks ago.

The key to becoming “the best regional news organization in America” will depend on the Company working as one, not by pitting employee against employee and union against union. We’ve played that game before and there are no winners.

In Solidarity,

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