GUILD, COMPANY RESOLVE KEY DISPUTE OVER WORDS
Marking the first bargaining progress in months, the Guild and the company have agreed on language that spells out limits on what changes the company can make in medical insurance plans while a Guild contract is in force.
The agreement, which
came in an exchange of letters that followed the Feb. 14 negotiation session,
showed movement on both sides, and Guild officials said they hoped that
this would lead to further progress in negotiations.
However, no new bargaining
meetings have been scheduled.
changes in medical plans have been a key stumbling block in negotiations.
Currently, the contract
allows the company to switch to plans that are "equivalent"
to those health benefits that are listed in the contract.
But in its proposal
for a new contract, the company added subtle, but important new wording,
saying that it wanted to be able to be able to switch to medical plans
that are "substantially equivalent'' to those described in the contract.
worried that might make it possible for the company to come up with a
mid-term medical plan that would have worse benefits or added costs -
either of which would undermine what had been worked out in negotiations.
mean that a substantially equivalent plan would be one not exactly the
same as the one it was replacing but one which would be essentially equal
in value and coverage,'' wrote Thomas J. McDonough, the Journal's human
The Guild negotiating
team met March 12 to discuss whether the company's willingness to define
its terms - and the language that it provided - met the union's goals,
and decided that it did. Excessive changes in medical coverage could be
challenged in arbitration, they decided.
Yesterday, the Executive
Board took a look and came to the same conclusion. Tim Schick, the Guild
administrator, then wrote to McDonough that the Guild accepted the use
of the term, and has modified its proposal to match the company's language.
WHILE THE MOVES
show an important narrowing of the gap between the two sides, the letters
between management and the Guild reflected the bitterness that underlies
the negotiations, which are more than a year old and which remain far
In its letter, the
company referred the union to Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary
to explain what the words meant. And it spurned a request by the Guild
to provide examples of what the company had in mind.
And in his notice
to the company of agreement on the language, Schick pointed out how long
the union has been kept waiting on such a simple, but crucial, matter.
that the Guild first asked the company to define this term on Nov. 12,
1999," Schick said. "Had this explanation been provided then,
months of dispute on this issue could have been avoided."
does not resolve the overall disagreement between the Guild and the company
over what specific medical plans should be in a new contract.
The company has proposed
three medical plans, plus a new dental program, all of which are different
from those in the expired contract. The Guild's contract proposal would
add those plans, but also proposes a family of Blue Cross and Blue Shield
plans, and it would continue the option of using the dental plan in the
agreement does not undo the wrongs committed by the company when it imposed
new medical plans on the Guild at the beginning of 2000, a one-sided step
the company took when negotiations had not been completed on that important
In fact, the imposition
of those medical plans - which are costing Guild workers more in premium
co-payments, require higher user fees for doctors' visits and drugs and
are less flexible than the older plans - is the subject of one of 30 unfair
labor practices complaints against the company brought by the regional
office of the National Labor Relations Board.
IT IS UNCLEAR
whether agreement on the key language issue paves the way for more progress.
During the last negotiating
session on Feb. 14 - the 18th session since negotiations began in October
1999 - the Guild made changes to five relatively minor sessions of its
proposal, shifts meant to draw similar changes from the company.
begins with a snowflake,'' the Guild had said.
The Guild replied that it remains willing to meet, and noted that it had made various and substantial changes in its negotiating position, while the company has refused to negotiate in good faith.
TNG/CWA Local 31041
270 Westmister St., Providence, Rhode Island 02903
401-421-9466 | Fax: 401-421-9495