Vol XI, No. 33TNG/CWA Local 31041March 31, 2000


Journal lawyer withholds data on new Belo 401k program unveiled at March 17 talks

Two weeks after it dangled details of a new pension plan before Guild negotiators, the company declared that the retirement program "is not being offered to the Guild."

In a harshly worded letter, Richard A. Perras, the lawyer who acts as the Journal's chief negotiator, refused to provide information that the Guild asked for in order to evaluate the plan.

The letter reverses what was considered a forward direction in the negotiations.

Tim Schick, Guild administrator and the union's chief negotiator, accused the company of "teasing" union members by bringing up the new plan, then seeming to turn away from it.

The company had asked for the negotiation session, held March 17, reportedly telling federal mediator Paul Chabot that it was "looking for a way to break the impasse."

The Guild does not believe there is a legal impasse in the talks, but it was interested in moving ahead with the negotiations, which had been recessed since late January.

During the session, conducted off the record, the company outlined a new Belo Corporation pension program that it said is planning to roll out to non-Guild employees in July, but did not formally offer it to the Guild.

Still, disclosure of the new Belo plan appeared to provide a means for the parties to discuss what has been a key issue during the half-year negotiations: retirement benefits.

As a result, the union sent the company a detailed list of questions about the current and new pension plans, so that it could evaluate whether the upcoming program would be a useful topic.

Without the requested information it would be impossible for the union to understand whether the new program would have merit over the pension and 401k retirement programs provided to the Guild currently.

Among the information requests was that the company estimate pension benefits for all members of the union, assuming they remained at the paper through age 65.

But rather than accelerate negotiations, Perras worked to set them back in a March 29 letter to Schick, declaring, "you are not entitled to this information."

"First, the information relates solely to benefits that apply to non-bargaining unit employees, benefits that are not being offered to the Guild bargaining unit.

"Second, your request is made to harass the company, and is a further attempt to misuse the authority of the National Labor Relations Board in a misguided effort to pressure the company in these negotiations.

"The bad faith character of your request is illustrated by your demand that the company perform calculations to '_. provide the Guild with the pension benefit estimate for every employee in the bargaining unit_.' "

Perras concluded: "A request of this type at this stage in the negotiations for more than 450 employees is patently in bad faith."

The opposite is true.

The Guild's information request is the only responsible course for the union to take. Pensions are enormously complex, and cannot be negotiated in the dark. The company's refusal to provide economic details about the pension situation makes it all the more difficult for the union to consider the pros and cons of vital benefits.

In response to the Company denial, Schick wrote: "The Guild is entitled to this information for the following reasons:

  • "At least six bargaining unit members are covered by the non-Guild pension and 401k programs under lifetime job guarantees
  • "The Guild is attempting to develop contract proposals related to pension and 401k plans. These items have been on the table since the start of negotiations, with the Guild seeking inclusion in the non-Guild pension and 401k programs. Modifications of those programs for non-Guild employees will have a direct bearing on the Guild's proposals and necessitate review of the information sought in order for the Guild to determine whether or how it should modify its proposals.
  • "According to the information you provided the Guild on March 17, the company is calculating the very information being sought by the Guild for the approximately 9,000 employees (the figure you cited) employed by the Belo Corp. This information is to be available to these employees in May -- only a month away. Providing similar information on approximately 500 Guild-covered employees should be no more difficult or cumbersome.
  • "The information you cite as evidence of 'bad faith' is information the Guild is entitled to as it relates to the current pension plan. Further employees are entitled to this information under ERSIA within 30 days of a request. The Guild is requesting this information for itself and on behalf of the plan participants as beneficiaries of the pension plan and 401k plans."
Under Belo's planned pension changes, the existing Belo pension would be phased out, beginning in July. New employees would not be allowed to enter that pension system, only the new 401k.

Meanwhile, present workers would be given two choices: They could continue with the current Belo pension and 401k programs for the duration of their employment. Or they could agree to have their pension frozen at its current levels, and then begin investing in the new 401k plan.

The new 401k would be enhanced in two ways. Instead of making contributions to its old pension program, Belo would contribute 2 percent of an employee's pay to the 401k. The company would also match every $1 dollar the worker contributed of his or her own money with 75-cents, with a cap on matching employees' dollars at 6 percent of salary.

The new Belo 401k program sounds rich.

But how does it compare to the current Belo programs over the duration of a worker's employment? In fact, how does it compare to the Journal Company pension and 401k programs currently provided the Guild, generally regarded as inferior to the Belo programs?

To find out, Schick, the Guild administrator, March 17 wrote to the company with the following information requests:

  • Is there any change in pension eligibility under the revised Belo 401k
  • What provisions would be made for employees who are let go from the company prior to vesting (such as the two-year interns)?
  • How would pension benefits be calculated for employees who opt for the revised 401k? (How would service credit be calculated, how would salary average be figured, how would employee age for retirement purposes be figured?)
  • A pension benefit estimate for every employee in the bargaining unit assuming they opted for the enhanced 401k plan.
  • The pension benefit estimate for every employee in the bargaining unit assuming they opted to retain the present pension plan and retired at age 65.
  • What is the current average annual cost of per bargaining unit employee for pension benefits under the Journal pension plan?


When Paul Parker, a reporter in the Massachusetts office, submitted a routine expense voucher for $3.93, he included an item for photocopying fees worth 20-cents.

Soon, an envelope arrived from Journal headquarters, on the letterhead of Pat Welker, the newsroom administrator.

"Hi Paul. The A.H. Belo Corp. will be cutting you a check for the 20-cents you spent for a copy. But Joel didn't want you to have to wait, so these are from his desk to you."

Pouring out of the envelope: 20 pennies.

The prompt payment left a treasure chest of questions.

Did the pennies really come from the desk of Joel P. Rawson? If so, what exactly was the paper's executive editor trying to say: that he's personally following the careers of his far-flung reporters?

And finally, do managers really have time for such things?

These are questions that can be answered only by time. And by more detailed expense vouchers.

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TNG/CWA Local 31041
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