The NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia

Can you afford to pay $4,000 to $8,500 more a year for health care? The company thinks you can

April 22, 2015billrossInquirer

As our first Mediation session is tomorrow (Thursday) at 8:30 a.m., the Guild Bargaining Committee wishes to bring everyone up to date as to where contract talks now stand.

Although we have reached tentative agreements on a number of smaller issues, the big issues of contention still remain:

1) In the company’s minimal economic offer, their increased contribution to our Health & Welfare fund will not even cover the increase to our premium. For a little perspective, the company has not increased its per capita contribution to our H&W fund in FIFTEEN years, when the Guild agreed to divert a $35 raise to H&W. During these past 15 years, health care costs have risen about 10% per year. Fortunately, the Guild was able to build a surplus in our H&W Fund when the company was doing well and use some of that surplus to offset annual increases in health care costs. In addition, we agreed in the 2013 contract talks to use more than $3 million of that surplus to save the company and our members that amount of money over the past two years. As the company has two Trustees on our H&W Fund, they were well aware that this was a short-term fix and that the Fund would run out of money if the company did not raise its level of contribution in the contract we’re now bargaining. Their position so far is to not honor that agreement and instead attempt to pass more than $2 million in additional annual costs on to our membership. As we’ve stated in previous Bulletins, that would mean an increase of between $4,000 and $8,500 per member per year depending on whether your coverage is single or family. This is a non-starter for us.

2) The company wants to weaken seniority in case of a layoff, which we have repeatedly balked at. The Guild’s position is that seniority is a core principal of organized labor, it’s especially important in journalism where institutional memory, experience and perspective inform stories – and the company’s credibility – and it’s these same senior people who built the company over the past few decades that made it worth purchasing by the present owner.

3) We have proposed to bring from its own contract into the main unit contract, with all the contractual provisions of that contract and salary step increases to improve the pay scale. The company has agreed to some issues regarding, but they have not yet come all the way in making this the singular top-notch journalistic force they say they envision. Additionally, as the employees take no furloughs now, they will receive no additional income if the furloughs are restored and face only a massive pay cut due to rising health care costs. This is completely unacceptable.

Before you ask:

The company wishes to eliminate furloughs. We offered to keep the furlough weeks and have the company put that money into H&W. They’ve so far refused. We offered to go to one furlough week and put the other week’s money into H&W and were also rebuffed. We inquired about putting our pending profit-sharing money into the H&W Fund so it could go further as a pre-tax benefit and were rejected there also.

The company has offered no raises for the duration of the contract, tentatively set for three years.

We wish we had better news to report. With a new, sole owner and management pledging a win-win, we entered these talks hoping to see some recognition of our value to the company and make some progress getting back previous give-backs. The company, however, has continued reading from the same old, tired playbook – less money for employees and go after seniority. But the last few concessionary contracts combined with buyouts have already reduced the Guild payroll by nearly $20 million and seen a hundred or more senior colleagues walk out the door. Where has this strategy gotten us?

We hope that the next two mediation sessions bring progress and will report back to you.

In solidarity,
Howard Gensler
Bill Ross
Diane Mastrull
Cindy Burton
Melanie Burney
Regina Medina
Brian McCrone