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Times offers new proposal, but movement on key issues is scant

03/26/2012

Guild negotiators and more than 30 observers wait for Times management to arrive at March 26 contract talks held at Proskauer, management's law firm.

Pension plan would still be frozen
with more 401(k) contributions instead

With nearly three dozen Guild observers looking on, Times management took a slightly less offensive approach to contract talks today by presenting a new offer that eliminated eight of its initial proposals and revised several others, including its offers on wages, health care coverage, retirement plans and the length of the workweek.

NEGOTIATIONS UPDATE

But most major proposals were unchanged: Management still wants to freeze Guild members’ pension accruals and eliminate Guild trustees from the plan; still wants to cut severance pay and buyout terms; and still wants overtime pay to be on a weekly rather than a daily basis.

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Times Guild member Walt Baranger and New York Guild President Bill O'Meara chat before March 26 talks.

Times negotiators presented their revised giveback demands just after New York Guild President Bill O’Meara scolded the management representatives for the regressive proposals they have kept on the table for the past year.

“Guild members are angry over huge executive severance packages, alleged secret bonus plans and secret pension plans for top managers,” O’Meara said. “That’s against a backdrop of recent news of more than 400,000 paid digital subscribers, and paying off Carlos Slim. The picture for The Times has gotten a lot brighter – yet the people who produce the product are being treated poorly. This is not a time to have a fight with the people you need the most.”

O’Meara added that “The Guild would like to reset the negotiations in hopes of making progress.”

GUILD HEALTH PLAN WOULD BE RETAINED, BUT…
The new proposal included one significant change: Management backed off its initial demand that the jointly run Guild-Times health plan be eliminated and that Guild employees be covered instead under the nonunion employees’ medical plan, which is inferior in many ways to current Guild coverage. However, The Times offered only a paltry additional contribution to the medical fund – one that amounts to about two-tenths of 1 percent of payroll, far short of what is needed to keep the fund healthy without more potential wage diversions from employees.

For the first time, management made an offer on wages over the course of its proposed three-year contract: no retroactive pay dating from March 31, 2011, the expiration of the contract; a 1 percent increase in the second year (2012), effective upon contract ratification; and, in 2013, a 1 percent lump sum bonus that would not be built into employees’ salaries.  The company made it clear that this is a “first wage proposal.”

While maintaining its demand that the defined-benefit pension plan be frozen, the management negotiators for the first time also offered details on what they are offering in exchange: a 401(k) contribution of 3 percent of an employees’ base salary for people with less than 10 years of continuous service, and a 5 percent contribution for those with 10 years or more. Actuaries for the Guild have estimated that nothing less than at least a 12 percent contribution would make up for the loss of future pension accruals for most people.

After originally demanding a 40-hour workweek for all employees, the company modified its proposal, reverting back to a 35-hour week with this significant addition: “The Times may schedule an employee to work up to an additional five hours under this provision, to be paid at the straight-time rate for time worked.” Coupled with the proposal that overtime be paid on a weekly and not daily basis, this language could severely impact scheduling and compensation for many employees.

This proposal does seem to provide true parity for employees currently under The Times Digital contract: They would move from a 40-hour week to 35 hours at the same rate of pay, or be paid five additional hours of straight time if management assigns them to work 40 hours.

Times negotiators also said they were willing to continue the payment of night and lobster shift differentials. The company is still seeking to significantly decrease buyout and severance payments, but it dropped its proposal to end “notice pay,” which is a payment, in addition to severance, to people who are laid off.

Members of the Guild negotiating committee will meet on Thursday for a point-by-point discussion of the new Times proposal and will consider counterproposals.

Three dates in April have been set for more bargaining sessions with management.

NY Guild Secretary Treasurer Peter Szekely, Guild outside counsel Irwin Bluestein and Guild President Bill O'Meara shortly before March 26 contract talks with The New York Times.
Guild negotiators and observers take their seats during contract talks shortly before the arrival of management negotiators on March 26. At the table are New York Guild Secretary-Treasurer Peter Szekely (left), Guild outside counsel Irwin Bluestein and Guild President Bill O'Meara.

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