AJAM Guild Membership Meeting Report for Oct. 12, 2015 (copy)



Oct. 12, 2015 AJAM Guild Membership Meeting Minutes

Next steps to bargaining a new contract;
Management proposes changes to medical and 401(k) plans

Yesterday evening we got together for our first membership meeting since voting for Guild representation last week. The meeting took place at Guild offices in Times Square. Susan DeCarava, local representative, and Guild Organizing Coordinator Nastaran Mohit walked everyone through the next steps to bargaining, and updated the group on recent communications from AJAM management, including a proposal involving changing the current medical and 401(k) plans.

Last week, the Guild sent a "notice of intent to bargain" to AJAM informing management that we look forward to talking and getting our first contract. Our expectation is that we could start negotiations in December. Before negotiations commence, the membership has to elect a Unit Council (the governing body for our bargaining unit), which will then recommend the members of the Guild Bargaining Committee. More on that below.

The letter also reminded management that it cannot change terms and conditions of employment unilaterally (e.g., can't tell a Guild member who was taking comp days that comp days are no longer allowed). This quickly became a relevant issue, as late yesterday afternoon, the company’s outside counsel told the Guild that it is changing its health insurer to Aetna and the 401(k) vendor to Fidelity for all non-bargaining unit employees at AJAM. Susan will request more info and the Guild’s health care expert will assess both the current and proposed plans and provide a comparison for us to review. As Guild-represented employees, we don’t have to accept management’s proposal to change plans, though we may ultimately and collectively agree that the company’s proposal is an improvement.  We’ll have to wait and see what information management provides. We’ll continue to update you as more information is forthcoming.

As union members, we all have what are known as "Weingarten rights," which means we can ask for Susan or Nastaran to be with us in any meeting with management that feels disciplinary in nature. If you’re called into a meeting, you can ask, “Could this meeting or discussion lead to discipline?” If the answer is “yes,” then request Guild representation. If you’re told “no,” but during the course of the meeting it begins to feel otherwise, then you can say, “This feels disciplinary. I’d like to have my Guild rep present,” and request that they contact the Guild at 212-575-1580. You can also contact Susan (212) 730-1509 or Nastaran (212) 730-7371directly.

Before sitting across the table from management, we have to create a representative internal structure to address bargaining and other member concerns going forward. Under Guild bylaws, that’s our Unit Council. It is compromised of a Unit Chair, a First Vice Chair, a Secretary and an unlimited number of Vice Chairs. Candidates for these positions will be nominated and elected at a meeting most likely to be scheduled the week of October 26 or November 2. Keep an eye out for a Doodle to select the most convenient date and time for all. 

Once a date is picked, the Guild will send out a five-day notice for the nomination and election meeting. At that meeting you may nominate yourself or your colleagues for any position. Usually, if two people run for the same position, everyone will talk it out at the meeting and decide by consensus who will fill what roles. If that doesn’t work, and there are contested positions, there is a separate formal election process with mail-in ballots. Guild terms of service are for three years, but this election is happening mid-term, so it will end Oct. 31, 2016. A new term will begin Nov. 1, 2016.

In general, Susan advised that the Unit Council be representative of all occupational groups (news, opinion, features, photo, interactive/video, social media, planning) and positions (reporters, editors). How the council functions is up to us – for example, we can decide to rotate terms so everyone has an opportunity to serve; it doesn’t have to be hierarchical. A survey will go out this week to gauge what kind of structure we want.

While there is usually overlap between the Unit Council and the Bargaining Committee – the Unit Chair is automatically a member – not everyone on the council has to be part of bargaining. Also, members who are not on the Unit Council may be appointed to the Bargaining Committee. Like the Unit Council, it makes sense that the committee be representative of our membership.

The very first task of the Guild Bargaining Committee is to survey members about their priorities and use the results of that survey to draft bargaining proposals. The entire membership votes on those proposals before they are presented to the company. The Guild does not use templates or model contracts; the process and contract language will be tailored to our needs. Once the proposals are completed, the Guild notifies AJAM management that we’re ready to commence negotiations.

First contracts usually take a while to bargain to completion. It’s difficult to forecast at this point how long it might take. We can be assured, however, that throughout the bargaining process members input and participation is key, whether through the approval of the initial set of proposals, feedback during regular membership meetings or one-on-one updates. At the conclusion of bargaining, we have the ultimate say: The full membership votes on whether or not to ratify the agreement.  

Everyone seemed to come away from the meeting looking forward to the next steps that will get us closer to bargaining. We want to have constructive talks with management about the ways in which we can address our job concerns and improve the newsroom. Stay tuned.

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