Voting set for Friday
on contract proposal
The Guild Executive Committee today voted 9 to 1 to call a vote on the contract proposal that the Journal put forth at the bargaining session this morning, and to recommend that members vote "yes." A secret-ballot vote will be held Friday at the Guild office from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The company's contract proposal differs from the one that was rejected in June in these ways:
NLRB convictions: A judge would not have to vacate the convictions, but the contract would be contingent on action by the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in Boston.
Unlike in the previous contract offer, the convictions would stand. But the contract would serve as an out-of-court settlement of the matter and would replace the remedies ordered by the judge. For example: Karen Ziner would be returned to the day shift, the same as the judge ordered. But the amount of back pay averages 73 percent of what the Guild estimates was due under the judge's decision (details below). We would get less than the judge ordered, but we would get it sooner -- and for sure. (If we took litigation to its completion, we don't know how much of his remedy the NLRB would uphold.)
Although the convictions would not be erased, the Guild would not be allowed to refer to them in future legal proceedings -- a common feature in labor settlements.
The contract would not go into effect upon ratification. There would be a delay as we wait for the NLRB to act. However, this is significantly different from what the company was insisting upon in June. The contract is NOT contingent on action from a judge who might not be willing to vacate his decisions, and who would take many months to act. Instead, it is contingent on a simple termination of litigation by the NLRB, an approval the Guild anticipates obtaining within two to three months.
Retroactive raises: The Company is continuing offer raises of 0 percent for 2000, 3 percent for 2001, 0 percent for 2002 and 6 percent for 2003. But, to sweeten the pot, it is also offering a "signing bonus" of $1,000 for Guild members who work 22.5 hours a week or more, and $500 for irregular extras and those who work fewer hours. This arrangement provides greater benefits for lower-paid workers. On average, Guild members will receive 73 percent of the back raises they would have received if they had been given the same raises as nonunion workers between 2000 and the end of 2003.
Future raises: The floor of 1.5 percent each year remains. But a new provision would guarantee that Guild members get no less than 8 percent in cumulative wage increases over the four-year life of the contract. Each year, Guild members' raises will be no less than 1.5 percent and no less than the raises are provided to nonunion workers. But over the course of the four years raises have to add up to at least 8 percent.
Contract duration: This would be an eight-year contract, retroactive to January 2000 and continuing until December 2007. That means Guild members would continue, for the next four years, to pay 15 percent of their health-insurance premiums, even though other Belo employees pay 25 percent.
"It's not great, but it's good enough," said Guild President John Hill. "When we started this effort, members identified four areas where they wanted to see improvements: protect health insurance benefits, parking for downtown members, access to the Belo retirement plans and a wage increase. This proposal makes progress in all but the health insurance.
"Though it isn't generous in back pay, we believe it is enough to meet members' economic needs and to ensure the Guild's continuing viability in the work place," Hill said.
Six months of unprecedented activism by Guild members drove the company off its excessive demands and brought forth a bonus offer, Hill said. The Executive Committee believes that to get more, members would need to do even more.
"If a majority of Guild members decide the contract proposal is inadequate, we will face many months -- possibly years -- of struggle that will draw upon members' time, energy and guts. If the members want it, we'll lead that struggle gladly. But we are recommending, instead, that members vote `yes.' "
Hill added: "Despite its shortcomings, this contract proposal is a huge achievement for the Guild. Let's remember where this started. The company was demanding unilateral control over our health benefits, and then tried to do the same with our wages. The resources of a powerful, wealthy company were dedicated to wiping us out. They thought it would be easy to crush the Guild. Instead, we stood strong and they failed completely.
"With this contract, the Guild will be here for years to come, to guard against abuse, firings and unfairness, to bring grievances and resolve differences, and to negotiate future contracts. We held our ground. We said 'no' to the unacceptable. We have much to be proud of."
Copies of the contract proposal are being printed today and will be distributed tomorrow.
In addition, meetings to answer questions will be held at the Guild office, Friday at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. as voting goes on.
Changes from our last contract
In addition to those mentioned above, these are the major changes from the contract that expired in 1999. Most of the provisions below were in the contract proposal that was rejected in June.
Health and dental: Remains the same as what is currently in force, but changes the previous contract by eliminating Blue Cross and a cap on how fast premiums can go up. Four health plans are offered -- United HMO, United POS, CIGNA and Lumenos -- with employees paying 15 percent of the premium. Metlife Dental remains in effect.
Union security: After the contract expires, even if there is not a new contract in place, the company will continue to collect dues through payroll deduction, new people hired into the bargaining unit will still be required to pay dues, and grievances can still be brought to arbitration until the negotiations have lawfully ended. This strengthens our previous "evergreen clause" by adding the provision that grievances can go to arbitration even after contract expiration.
Holidays and vacation: Only one optional holiday (down from two in the previous contract), for a new total of 10 paid holidays. Employees are eligible for three weeks vacation only after five years with the company. (It was three years in the previous contract.)
Sick pay: Up to three of each employee's five sick days can be used for illness in the immediate family.
Flexible spending accounts: Employees can contribute pretax money to spending accounts to pay for certain health expenses and for dependent-care expenses.
Features Department: Copy editors will be upgraded to make-up copy editors, and the make-up copy editor title will be eliminated for future hires.
Pre-Pub: Prepublishing operators will be upgraded to step 2 of the prepublishing specialist grid, and advance in those steps annually until they reach the top. The prepublishing operator classification will be eliminated.
Irregular extras: IEs who have worked 1,000 hours get priority in scheduling.
2-year interns: An additional $25 per week in the second year.
Car allowance: Goes up from $43.50 per week to $45, for employees required to use their own cars. The casual mileage rate is also increased, with caps at IRS rate, depending on gas prices.
Life insurance: Increases to two times base salary for employees working 22.5 hours or more per week, with a minimum of $30,000.
Overtime: Contract specifies which employees are wage-hour exempt (not eligible for overtime). This would supersede federal law and protect us from efforts in Washington to deprive workers of overtime pay.
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