Vol XI, No. 7TNG/CWA Local 31041January 18, 2000


Secret ballot vote to be held Feb. 2-3;
Plan would protest ProJo bargaining tactics

The executive board yesterday scheduled a secret ballot vote early next month on whether the Guild should adopt a work-to-rule program to protest the company's substandard contract offers and its heavy-handed bargaining tactics.

The plan will be discussed at two membership meetings on Wednesday, Feb. 2: one at 12:30 p.m., the other at 5 p.m.

Balloting will begin at the first of those meetings, the Feb. 2 session at 12:30 p.m., and will be left open until 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 3, to give members the maximum opportunity to vote.

In addition, the board will provide the same secret ballot voting opportunity to those members who will not be able to vote in person.

The executive board's action comes at the instruction of a membership meeting decision Jan. 12 to call for such a vote.

At that meeting, there appeared to be strong sentiment in favor of adopting a work-to-rule program.

But some leaders said that such an important step should only be decided by the largest possible number of Guild members, and thus called for a paper ballot vote with sufficient advance notice.

Under a work-to-rule program, union members do only what the contract requires -- at the same time taking pains to follow the contract's full requirements. The company gets its money's worth.

But the workplace obviously becomes less efficient and productive than normal in a newspaper, which depends on big doses of extra effort, enthusiasm and common sense to make it function effectively.

Adopting such a program would be a serious step.

But both the negotiating committee and the executive board believe the company's negotiating stance has placed the Guild in the most serious situation since the union was forced to go on strike in 1973.

At the bargaining table, the company has imposed a series of give-backs that will take away hard-fought benefits, as well as new provisions that will cost union members and their families significant dollars.

At the same time, the company has refused to consider extending to the Guild the Belo pension and 401k benefits that it has provided non-Guild workers.

Just as disturbing, the company has taken a belligerent approached to the negotiations, declaring "impasse" on still-open issues in order to implement some of its substandard proposals, most notably the medical plans, while holding back any pay increases.

In response, the Guild has filed a series of unfair labor practice charges, saying that the company has violated provisions of federal laws. The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating the Guild's charges.

The Guild will distribute further information about the proposed work-to-rule program in coming days.


What's wrong:
* Higher premium contributions
* More fees
* No Blue Cross
* Less rate hike protection
* No guaranteed benefits

By Brian C. Jones
The company's proposed health insurance plans will cost Guild members more money for coverage that isn't as good as the health program in the current contract. That's right: more money for less.

Guild members already are getting a sense of this, because the company, in what the union believes is an illegal move, herded bargaining unit members into the company-imposed plans as of Jan. 1.

But the problem is much worse than it might seem even with the first weeks' payroll deductions. Viewed over the course of a year, the company's proposals have a devastating effect on union members and their families.

The proposed health costs would overwhelm the benefits of the puny 2 percent wage increases the company has offered, practically eating up pay raises for those at the bottom of the pay scale.

What's worse, the company's proposals would leave Guild members and their families wide open to future premium increases - increases that seem very likely to occur in coming years.

But the first year is bad enough.

Take the United HealthCare HMO. The premium co-pays outlined by the company will cost Guild members $1,110 a year for family coverage.

That's an increase of $226 a year, or 26 percent, over the premium co-payments for United last year. And it's a $523 yearly increase for Guild families who were in the failed Harvard Pilgrim Health Care HMO.

It gets more painful.

The company has loaded up the new United plan with nickel-and-dime fee increases for such things as drugs and doctors' office visits.

The Guild estimates that with moderate use of the HMO, these fees could cost a family $254 more a year.

Combined, the higher premium costs and the increases in user fees could cost Guild families an added $480 this year, compared to what they had been paying in 1999. Here's how these twin hikes will savage the pay raises that the company has proposed.

* A 2 percent raise in the current reporter wage of $50,887 works out to $1,017. The $480 added cost of health care will eat up 47 percent of that increase.

* It's much worse for people on lower pay scales. Porters (janitors) and others would see a $525 annual increase if their $26,282 pay goes up 2 percent. The $480 added health costs will take 91 percent of the wage hike. That's practically the entire raise!

But more than just money is wrong.

The company's health care imposition doesn't compare at all favorably with the current contract's health care provisions, which provided for three clear choices: United, Blue Cross and the now-defunct Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The company has added choices of two other health plans in addition to the United HMO: United HealthCare PPO and CIGNA POS. But these plans are loaded with landmines. Both the PPO and the POS plans open Guild families to huge potential costs, because they require co-pays for hospitalization -- expenses that would run between $1,500 and $8,000 in a given year, depending on medical needs and choice of hospitals.

Lacking in the company's plan is any provision for Blue Cross & Blue Shield, regarded as an important option for families with complex health needs, since Blue Cross provides the most flexibility in getting out-of-state care.

In contrast, the Guild's proposals would give members a choice of two United plans and three different Blue Cross health plans.

There are other serious differences.

The Guild's current contract has a two-step protection against outlandish premium increases: it sets a ceiling of 15 percent of last year's premium for worker contributions. Also, the Guild contract says members should be assessed only 50 percent of any year-to-year premium increases.

The company's 15 percent is levied on the current, higher premium.

Further, the Guild contract spells out health coverage terms. The company's proposal would allow the newspaper to alter coverage terms at its whim. Guild members, of course, already are experiencing some of the pain of the company's health plan, because the newspaper pushed members into the United HMO, at the new rates and plan terms. (And with no pay raise).

This move came through what the union believes is an illegal ploy of declaring "impasse" on health care bargaining. Impasse means that there is no bargaining room left between the parties, which of course is not the case.

At the same time, the company says it will continue bargaining on health care, and will hold a second open enrollment for Guild members who might want to switch into plans contained in a final agreement.

Here are the details we used for our analysis.

PREMIUMS: Last year, Guild members contributed $884 for premiums in the United family plan. Under the imposed plan, the payments are $1,110. That's an increase of $226, or nearly 26 percent.

CO-PAYMENTS: The new United plan increases frees for hospital emergency room visits from $25 to $50; doctors' office visits from $5 to $10; and prescription co-payments from $3 to $5, $15 or $25. Assuming two ER trips a year, that's another $50; assuming one doctor's office visit a month, that's $60 more; and assuming one $15 prescription ``brand name'' refill a month, $144 more. The total is $254.

COMBINED NEW COSTS: $226 in increased premiums and $254 in extra fees totals $480.

Copyright © 2000 The Providence Newspaper Guild
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495