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Survey asks workers about their sexual orientation, disabilities

10/14/2010

Why ask, do tell?

You’ve heard of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Apparently, Thomson Reuters management hasn’t. In a survey recently sent to employees, the company asked about sexual identity and orientation.

Many Guild members were shocked. Told to choose between identifying themselves as “bisexual; heterosexual/straight; homosexual/gay; homosexual/lesbian; or transgender,” most opted for the last choice, “prefer not to say,” as a matter of principle. Some were so offended they chose not to fill out the survey at all, even if it was supposedly anonymous.

But the question remains, why ask? Why ask employees to divulge something that’s irrelevant to their work, none of the company’s business and can become a ticking time bomb for discrimination in the future?

The question was particularly jarring in light of an e-mail sent to all staff from CEO Tom Glocer (the same guy who’s against income inequity, except when it comes to cutting Guild members’ compensation). On October 11, Glocer urged TR employees to “speak out against prejudice and discrimination” after recent anti-gay violence in New York, New Jersey and Belgrade:

“Fortunately, the Thomson Reuters community is too enlightened and civilized for such violence to occur within our own company. However, subtler forms of discrimination and harassment may exist against gay, lesbian and other colleagues. I call on each of us to stand up for our colleagues and denounce prejudice and discrimination in its many forms, violent or subtle, whether directed on the basis of sexual orientation, religion, race, national origin or otherwise.”

Tom, consider this a denouncement of a subtle form of prejudice in the company survey.

Sexuality wasn’t the only area where the survey got way too personal. Employees were also asked about disabilities and long-term health conditions, like depression, diabetes, arthritis, dyslexia and other physical impairments that “may not be readily apparent.” 

That’s right, the company that just promised to more than double some Guild members’ health care costs wants to know if you have any long-standing medical conditions. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why answering that question with anything other than “prefer not to say” might not be a good idea – “anonymous” or not.

Under the best of circumstances, with a company that treats its employees fairly, such invasive, privacy-busting questions would give one pause. With Thomson Reuters, a profitable company whose management has shown itself to have a bottomless appetite for making life harder for its employees, it’s a full stop.

Manager details illegal health costs

Thomson Reuters’ new managing editor, Jack Reerink, spelled out the coming changes in health care costs for Guild-covered employees (as usual, management ignored Guild members in Tech Ops and Admin by sending the message to Editorial employees only). It’s what we’ve been telling you since management illegally declared impasse back in January: they want us to pay more for less coverage.

Currently, Guild members pay a fixed amount, ranging from $15 to $81 per paycheck, based on a sliding income scale. We have 100 percent in-network coverage after paying annual deductibles of $150 (single) and $300 (family). Come January 2011, that’s all disappearing, along with the company’s 2 percent contribution to our 401(k) accounts. We estimate that the new medical regime will more that double current paycheck contributions as we are asked to pick up18 percent of the plan’s cost (despite repeated information requests, the company won’t disclose those costs). Still, we’re asking again.

Along with the spike in costs comes a roll-back in in-network coverage to 90 percent and a doubling of deductibles to $300 (single) and $600 (family). This means that a $1,000 medical bill for in-network services that would cost employees $150 (single) or $300 (family) this year, will cost $370 and $640, respectively, next year (and that’s assuming the bills are within the insurance carrier’s “reasonable and customary” limits.).

The Guild believes this action by Thomson Reuters is illegal, as are the scheduled Jan. 1, 2011 unilateral changes in several benefit vendors, including those for dental and drug coverage. That’s why all of this is now before the National Labor Relations Board. We don’t think a profitable company like Thomson Reuters should squeeze another dollar out of its employees and their families. But here’s how Reerink rationalized it:

“I appreciate this represents hardship for some of you. Keep in mind, though, that we have added lots of new positions while other media organizations have made deep cuts in benefits and staff.”

The company mouthpiece may be new, but it’s the same old song – nearly two years old at this point. Management wants to cut our benefits and overall compensation, not because it needs to, but because newspaper companies are in trouble, and because it thinks it can. Even some troubled media companies offer better benefits than Thomson Reuters. These actions are not just illegal, they’re reprehensible.

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