Print

Print


NYT labor reporter's take on Guild-Times talks
Steven Greenhouse
http://jimromenesko.com/2012/04/17/nyt-labor-reporters-take-on-guild-times-talks/

New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse shares
his views on the Times-Guild contract talks with
colleagues:

* "As someone who has covered labor negotiations for
years, I was baffled why it took nearly a year for
management to move beyond its initial draconian offer."

* "I fear that the anger in the newsroom will only
continue to grow so long as the Times negotiating team
sticks with contract offers that would cut our
after-inflation compensation."

* "I believe the Times should work with the Guild to
seriously explore some type of profit-sharing formula
that would help hold down the Times' fixed costs while
at the same time assuring that Times employees receive a
fair share of any financial rebound that the Times
enjoys."

* "I have great respect for Arthur and the entire
Sulzberger family for their whole-hearted dedication to
maintaining the Times as the world's greatest newspaper.
But I fear that the Arthur has been ill served by [Times
labor chief] Terry Hayes and other negotiators who,
through their draconian contract offers, have shown
considerable disrespect toward the newsroom."

Greenhouse's full memo is after the jump.


The Newspaper Guild of New York put out this dispatch
this afternoon:

From The Times's labor reporter,
a perspective on Guild-Times talks

(Steven Greenhouse, The Times's longtime labor reporter,
recently emailed his take on the state of Guild-Times
contract negotiations to several colleagues, some of
whom had asked him to weigh in on the issue. Greenhouse
holds no union position and is not a member of the
bargaining committee or any other Guild committee. We
thought his report was a clear, thoughtful,
down-the-middle account of where things stand and what's
at stake in these very important talks. So, with
Steven's permission, we're making it available to all
Times Guild members. - The Newspaper Guild of New York)

Several colleagues have told me that they're confused
about where things stand in the Guild negotiations, and
they've asked me to attempt to explain things and bring
them up to date. A few colleagues have also told me -- to
my surprise -- that various editors strongly believe that
management's new offer is very good and much improved
and that we Guild members should be rushing to accept
it.

So I'd like to attempt to explain the state of play.

Sad to say, the Guild and the Times still remain very
far apart. The Guild contract expired on March 31, 2011,
and there was hardly any movement in the negotiations in
the subsequent 11 months. During those 11 months,
management stuck to its initial contract offer, which
demanded very significant concessions, most notably a
pension freeze and a three-year salary freeze. That
offer would have meant a cut of more than 15 percent in
compensation for every one of us over the life of the
proposed three-year contract, after factoring in
inflation.

(Quick math: That proposed wage freeze would have cut
our pay by 7.7 percent after inflation over three years,
assuming an annual inflation rate of 2.5 percent. And
the proposed pension freeze would mean an additional 10
percent or so reduction in our compensation because,
under a freeze, the Times would stop paying an amount
equal to around 10 percent of our salaries into the
pension fund each year (not including the large special
contributions the Times has also had to make because of
underfunding troubles in our pension plan.))

Any expert in labor relations would tell you that when a
company demands a cut of more than 15 percent in
compensation after inflation, it's being draconian. From
what I've seen over the years cover workplace issues,
companies seek to exact such deep cuts in compensation
only when they're in dire financial shape or when
management is angry at the workforce for doing a sub-par
job and not keeping up with the competition.

Not surprisingly, the Guild responded to management's
initial proposal with an emphatic, "No way." On March
26, nearly a year after the Guild's contract expired,
management made its second offer. In my view, management
finally put forward its somewhat improved offer because
it saw how angry, offended and united Guild members were
and because Arthur was taking a public relations beating
for a contract offer that seemed to insult and punish
the newsroom. (I think Arthur has been ill served by
Terry Hayes and his other negotiators, but more on that
later.)

As someone who has covered labor negotiations for years,
I was baffled why it took nearly a year for management
to move beyond its initial draconian offer. And I was
also totally baffled by this line in Terry Hayes's March
26 letter about the company's new offer: "To say we are
disappointed in the lack of progress since (the contract
expired) only begins to scratch the surface of it." If
Terry Hayes was so disappointed about the lack of
progress, he could have easily assured significant
progress by not digging in for nearly a year with an
offer that demanded such huge concessions.

Now a look at the main points in the company's March 26
offer:

Pension-Whereas management's original offer, with its
call for a pension freeze, provided for no increase at
all in the company's contribution to our 401(k) plans,
its new offer proposes an additional 5 percent
contribution to the 401(k)'s of those of us at the Times
10 years or more and a 3 percent contribution for those
at the Times fewer than 10 years. (Some more boring
math: For those with 10 years or more at the Times, this
would mean the company would contribute about 5 percent
less of our pay per year toward our retirement than it
does now, and for those with fewer than 10 years, the
company would contribute about 7 percent less.)

Salary-Management's new offer dropped its call for a
three-year pay freeze and instead calls for a wage
freeze in the contract's first year, a 1 percent raise
in the second year and a lump-sum payment equal to 1
percent of salary in the third year. In other words, the
offer calls for a mere 1 percent raise over three years.
(Again, assuming inflation of 2.5 percent a year, this
new proposal would translate into a 6.7 percent cut in
our pay over the life of the contract, after factoring
in inflation. If inflation were to rise to 3 percent a
year, this could mean an after-inflation pay cut of
roughly 8 percent over three years.)

For those who think management's new offer is a major
improvement over its initial offer, I suggest looking at
it this way. While the company's first proposal demanded
an effective cut in our compensation of more than 15
percent after inflation, management's new proposal would
in effect mean a cut of 10 or 11 percent in our
compensation after inflation. In my view that still
seems plenty draconian and punitive.

Workweek-Management has largely abandoned its proposal
for a 40-hour workweek and has instead agreed to
continue with our 35-hour work week. From one
perspective, this appears to be a substantial concession
on management's part, but many of us in the newsroom see
this quite differently. Considering that so many of us
work 50 hours or more a week without putting in for
overtime, it seems largely insignificant for management
to say, okay, we'll let you stick with a 35-hour week
and stop demanding a 40-hour week. To many of us in the
newsroom, this hardly seems like a concession at all.

Health Plan-In its original offer, the Times called for
ending the Guild's health plan and moving us into
management's plan. In truth, I'm not sure which plan is
better or more generous. Some Guild members have made
cogent arguments that management's plan is better,
especially with regard to use of out-of-network services
(but managers generally have higher salaries than Guild
members, making it easier for them to afford
out-of-network services). But other Guild members have
made strong arguments that the Guild plan is better
because it has a solid, low-cost HMO plan and because
the union, i.e., we Guild members, have a major voice in
shaping the plan and its benefits.

When I discussed all this with some of the newsroom's
top experts on health care, they said the debate over
which plan is better -- management's or the Guild's --
totally misses the real issue. The real issue, they
said, is that the Times contributes far less toward
employee health coverage than do most major
corporations. The Times contributes an amount equal to 6
percent of our pay toward our health coverage, while the
average for large American corporations is around 12
percent.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the typical
worker at a large company pays 24 percent of his or her
total health premiums, with the company paying 76
percent. But we at the Times pay 46 percent of our total
health premiums -- nearly double the nationwide employee
average -- while the Times pays just 54 percent. The
average annual total health premium per worker at a
large American company is $15,520, with the average
worker paying $3,755 of that. Because we in the Guild
shoulder 46 percent of our health premiums, we each pay
about $3,500 more on average per year toward our health
coverage than employees at other large corporations.

In the past, the old Guild leadership, and the Times,
did a poor job keeping us abreast of the financial
problems that the Guild's health plan faced, and some
Guild members blame the Guild leadership for those
financial troubles. But many Guild members say the real
reason for those financial problems is that the Times
has been so stingy in contributing toward our health
plan. In its new proposal, management has offered just a
$200,000 increase in its contribution toward the Guild's
health plan -- an increase so small that it would most
likely mean serious financial woes for the Guild's plan
in just a year or two. In its new contract offer, the
Guild has proposed -- in the hope of finally fixing our
plan's financial problems -- that the Times increase its
contribution in several steps over several years so that
it would ultimately contribute an amount equal to 12
percent of our pay toward the Guild's health plan. That
would mean the Times would contribute about $6 million
more each year toward the Guild's health plan, and that
should go far to assure the plan's long-term financial
health.

I often wonder why the Times dragged its feet for nearly
a year before it finally put forward its second offer.
Sometimes I think that Terry Hayes and the Times other
negotiations hoped that the delays and lack of progress
in the bargaining would break our spirit and cause us to
fight among ourselves. But Guild members have held
together and, with each passing month, Guild members
have grown angrier, more frustrated and more united.

Guild members remain very unhappy with management's
latest offer. When I've seen other companies demand
pension freezes in their labor negotiations, those
companies often accompanied that bitter pill with an
important sweetener -like a significant raise or a fat
increase in 401(k) contributions. It was mystifying to
me that the Times negotiating team pushed the Guild for
almost a year to accept two hugely bitter pills at once:
the pension freeze and a three-year-wage freeze (not to
mention the proposal to increase our workweek to 40
hours from 35 without any concomitant increase in pay).
I've heard numerous colleagues say that as a result of
management's hardline negotiating stance, the newsroom
seems angrier, the gap between the newsroom and upper
management greater, than at any time in decades.

I have great respect for Arthur and the entire
Sulzberger family for their whole-hearted dedication to
maintaining the Times as the world's greatest newspaper.
But I fear that the Arthur has been ill served by Terry
Hayes and other negotiators who, through their draconian
contract offers, have shown considerable disrespect
toward the newsroom, all when we Guild members are
working harder than ever before on more platforms than
ever before -- newspaper, Website, blogs, video,
Facebook, Twitter, radio and TV interviews -- to help
ensure that the Times continues to produce the world's
finest news report, day in and day out. The Times
negotiating team has created considerable anger and
resentment in the newsroom, and I for one am sorry to
see so much of that anger and resentment directed at
Arthur.

For years, we in the newsroom have been eager and
willing to work with management to ensure the paper's
financial health and to make the Times the best news
operation it can be. Just look at how willingly we
accepted the 5 percent pay cut during the depths of the
recent recession. We certainly understand that the Times
has financial problems, although we see that the digital
paywall has attracted more than 450,000 subscribers and
that some analysts are saying the paywall might soon
bring in $100 million a year. We also saw that the Times
quickly found the money to pay Janet Robinson a
severance package of more than $23 million.

Many of us Guild members have the sinking feeling that
the Times bargaining team has abandoned any serious
effort to work with us and is instead seeking to cram
down its hugely concessionary offer by trying to wait us
out and break our will -- all while applying a lot of
lipstick to their pig of a contract offer.

I personally believe that the Times negotiating team can
be a lot less inflexible and a lot more creative in its
bargaining offers and its strategy. As I have said
before, I believe the Times should work with the Guild
to seriously explore some type of profit-sharing formula
that would help hold down the Times' fixed costs while
at the same time assuring that Times employees receive a
fair share of any financial rebound that the Times
enjoys. A smart profit-sharing formula could be an
important win-win for both sides, and such a strategy
could play an important role in helping the Times
restore its dividend to shareholders.

I fear that the anger in the newsroom will only continue
to grow so long as the Times negotiating team sticks
with contract offers that would cut our after-inflation
compensation. More than a year has passed since our
contract expired, and many of us are still waiting for
the Times to put a halfway realistic offer on the table,
one that shows that management appreciates the Times'
1,100 Guild members for the amazing work we do, day
after day, 24/7, producing the world's greatest
newspaper and news Website.

Please feel free to share this with others in the
newsroom.
Allbest,
Steve

____________________________________________

PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to
people on the left that will help them to interpret the
world and to change it.

Submit via email: [log in to unmask]

Submit via the Web: http://portside.org/submittous3

Frequently asked questions: http://portside.org/faq

Sub/Unsub: http://portside.org/subscribe-and-unsubscribe

PS Labor Archives: http://portside.org/archive

Contribute to Portside: https://portside.org/donate