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Guild proposal hits brick wall; Times negotiators deride move

09/25/2012

Contract negotiations ground to a temporary halt today, as New York Times management, with poorly disguised contempt, dismissed a counteroffer made by the Guild. In a world-turned-upside-down moment, management characterized its small, grudging and insufficient proposals of last week as “significant movement,” and suggested that we should keep bargaining against ourselves on salary and benefits.

NEGOTIATIONS UPDATE

An example? The Guild agreed today to reduce its first year wage demand from 4 percent to 3.5 percent, a concession valued at approximately half a million dollars. And what is management’s current first-year wage offer now that we’re 20 months into negotiations? Zero, 0, nada.

The Guild also moved on its proposal for a bonus plan, including cutting its maximum potential payout in half, far below the management maximum. Management negotiators derided this as unrealistic in the extreme. Bernie Plum, the Times’s outside lawyer (his law firm, Proskauer, represents the NFL against game officials, and we’ve seen how well that’s turned out), suggested we waive collective bargaining rights if we want to enjoy the financial benefits of managers. The Guild offered movement too on freelance fees; management said nothing, which, given the tenor of their comments, probably was just as well.

From beginning to end – the planned four-hour session lasted about a half-hour – management’s team did its best to look and sound mightily annoyed at our “lack of movement.” It is important to keep in mind, though, that however tightly Bernie Plum and Vice President for Labor Relations Terry Hayes hold to this fantasy, Guild members know better. For months we have taken the role of adults. We agreed to change our existing pension, perhaps our most valuable benefit, and put a sophisticated proposal on the table that saves the company millions of dollars in future costs. We have made $5.5 million worth of concessions, including on the company’s health care contributions, and now on salary, and yes, even on pension contributions. We embraced one unified contract for the newsroom and for digital, and we’ve made many compromises to get there. Despite all this, and after Guild negotiators had just moved further in his direction, Plum responded: “You’re not going to see further big movement on our part at this time.”

We, of course, want to engage in further constructive negotiations, at any hour on any day. But to continue to reduce, say, our wage demand, even as management insists on keeping a big, fat zero on the table, is a mug’s game.

As to management’s pension proposal, please keep in mind that The New York Times now pays about 10 percent of payroll (a little more than $10 million) into our pension to fund its ongoing obligations. They want to reduce that payment to 5 percent, and they pretended that even that was a great concession. As Guild President Bill O’Meara said in response, “It’s like asking us to cut our wages in half.”

The bottom line? Management’s current proposal would render immediately insolvent our existing pension plan, our proposed plan and more or less any plan we could devise.

The Guild remains ready, willing and able to negotiate. The key word is negotiate, not surrender. We will assume for now that management’s ill temper will pass. But we advise members, strongly, that only our concerted efforts and actions will make clear to The New York Times owner and management just how painfully far short their current proposal falls.

The next scheduled negotiating session is set for Thursday at 10 a.m. at Proskauer (just across 41st Street from the Times building). Observers are welcome. Please click here to RSVP.

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