The NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia

Pottstown Unit Bargaining Update

Hello fellow Guild members. Forgive our tardiness in giving you an update, but there wasn’t too much to report. Here is the latest.

First of all, as many of you may realize, our contract with The Mercury expired on March 31. As in past negotiations, it has been extended one month by mutual agreement. All current provisions remain in effect.

Also, given the recent announcement about potential lay-offs, we had preliminary discussions on this subject on March 31 and Publisher Tom Abbott said he is not sure of the number that will be required, but believes there may already be enough volunteers to prevent unwilling lay-offs.

It remains an open question about whether those who stay will be qualified to fill the posts of those who have elected to leave.

As for contact talks themselves, the negotiating committee has met twice with Mr. Abbott. The first meeting was on March 9, the second on March 31.

At neither meeting did the company provide any proposal on major items such as economics or health care, choosing instead to focus on “cleaning up the language” in the contract, something Mr. Abbott has raised in previous negotiations.

In the spirit of cooperation, the Guild agree to several “clean-up” items, including removing side letters which were no longer relevant, a clause which was made redundant by subsequent language and language allowing the use of interns, primarily in the editorial department.

However much of the “language clean-up” has serious and financial implications and was not accepted.

As we made our way through the changes Mr. Abbott has proposed, the first portion focused primarily on the editorial department. That’s the department that JRC CEO John Paton has identified as being key to the company’s success; whose work should be rewarded; and, along with the advertising department, was key in helping The Mercury be named by Editor and Publisher as one of the 10 newspapers in the country which “does it right.”

Yes, you read that right: The entire country.

As part of our reward for that achievement, Mr. Abbott, for example, wants to eliminate the separate job classifications of copy editor, reporter and photographer into a single classification of “journalist.” Aside from the neatness of this change, it also eliminates a pay scale and Mr. Abbott said it was not his proposal to raise reporters and photographers up to the copy editor pay scale. Ah, the rewards of doing it right.

Other rewards being offered by Mr. Abbott include eliminating the provision which guarantees 26 weekends off per year for editorial and circulation guild members; although he acknowledged that the current language actually accomplishes the goal he said his proposal is intended to reach – “more flexibility.”

Flexibility is at the heart of another “reward” Mr. Abbott has proposed for editorial, eliminating the provision that no employee be required to work more than three of the company’s six official holidays unless that employee receives a holiday-plus one day for each above three.

When negotiators asked Mr. Abbott whether anyone at the company had done the math on this request, he replied they had not. Despite a paucity of highly paid financial experts on our extensive negotiating staff, we took a crack at it.

Consider: Editorial has four news reporters and three sports reporters. There are six paid holidays in the contract. If all reporters worked their three full holidays that would add up to 21 days of coverage for six holidays. How much more flexibility, we are left to wonder, does Mr. Abbott feel he needs?

Additionally, Mr. Abbott has proposed eliminating the biggest joke in the contract, one inserted in the first contract negotiated with JRC, that the company will “endeavor to maintain” 16 full-time newsroom positions, an endeavor the company failed to successfully achieve about nine minutes after that contract, which also gave us the two-tiered pay scale, was signed.

As a kicker, a final reward for fidelity and years of service is a proposal to remove the clause that gives five weeks of vacation to those who have been continuously employed for 20 years or more, no doubt in the name of increased flexibility.

Other items discussed included expense and mileage reimbursement for which Mr. Abbott had no concrete proposal. The Guild suggested monthly price checks, something Mr. Abbott said the company would take into consideration.

Also proposed, but not discussed, are changes to the sick-leave language which allow those employed before 1999 to re-charge their sick-leave accumulation if used on in a single calendar year.

And not to leave advertising out of the basket of rewards the company has proposed, although no specific proposal for the ad sales incentive plan has yet crossed the table, a list of proposed changes warns “the company will be proposing only annual adjustments.”

After about an hour of such discussions, the negotiating committee agreed to no changes and ended the session, seeing it as being devoted to non-essentials.

The next session is Thursday, April 14 at 4 p.m. and Friday, April 15 at 9 a.m. in the company conference room.

We will “endeavor to maintain” better communications with you all and hope to be more successful than the company was in its endeavor.

Pottstown Negotiating Committee:

Dave Levengood, Evan Brandt, Gene Koch, Steve Gordon
Bill Ross, Executive Director, Newspaper Guild