Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Round Four Postponed

Unfortunately, we're going to have to push back this week's scheduled negotiations until Friday, August 5th. Rose Whitney, secretary-treasurer of CWA Local 9400, lost her husband after a brief illness and his funeral will be held on Friday and we didn't want negotiations to conflict with the services. Our thoughts are with her during this sad time.

Additionally, it would be nice if you guys could offer a kind word to Minerva Hernandez here at the Daily News when she returns later this week. She also unexpectedly lost a relative this week and has been out handling the arrangements.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Negotiations Round 3

Bargaining a contract can be a delicate dance-- both sides want to end up in the same place, but they don't necessarily want the same route to get there. After the third round yesterday, we'd gotten through the little pleasantries, traded a couple things back and forth, then got down to the serious business.

The union's number one priority is a swift agreement on a contract that shows substantial improvement in wages. While there are a number of issues that we'd like resolved, we've listened to your needs and focused the majority of our efforts on bringing back more money. While the company has stated a similar goal, the two sides remain far apart on how much that raise will work out to be.

Last week, we proposed a 6 percent annual increase for everyone, along with other enhancements such as a second floating holiday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day off. We also asked for $20 a month for reimbursement for staffers who use their cell phones for work, an increase of the night differential to $5 per shift and an improvement of the photographers' car allowance to $45 per day and the standard IRS reimbursement mileage rate (currently at 40.5 cents per mile) for staff members required to use their cars for work.

The company came back Friday morning with a tough proposal, ignoring virtually everything we asked for. They proposed to increase the current merit pool from 1 percent of total wages to 2 percent and offered a 1 percent guaranteed annual raise to everyone. Aside from that, the only economic concession they offered was to increase the minimum mileage reimbursement rate from 25 cents per mile to 28 cents per mile. Given that they're already paying 32.5 cents per mile (and we greatly appreciate their willingness to go above the contract), that's not much of an improvement.

The company's lead negotiator Jim Janiga expressed a desire to focus primarily on wages, so we took him up on it. We withdrew our previous request to make this a union shop-- a big sacrifice for the guild, but one we were willing to make to bring the two sides closer. We also grudgingly withdrew our request for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, since it creates a bigger economic stumbling block for the company to have large numbers of people off on the same day, but held on for an additional floating holiday. We also decreased the proposed hike for the photo car allowance to $40 per day, mileage to 35 cents per mile, $4.00 for the night shift differential and $10 per month for cell phones.

And we held firm on the 6 percent in wages-- that's what you want, that's what we want, that's the most important thing for everyone. They responded in the afternoon by standing on their own offer of 1 percent guaranteed each year with the larger merit pool.

We want to be flexible and not ask for anything unrealistic, but we feel that given the dramatic increase in cost of living in LA in the past three years, it's not out of line. The company seems very uninterested, however, choosing instead to rely mainly on merit pay. Dave Butler said the current system rewards mediocre work and does not allow the company to recognize outstanding effort. We could not disagree more stridently.

This is a disagreement that'll be had at just about every union workplace and just boils down to a philosophical difference. We believe that the peace of mind and economic stability of knowing that you'll be able to afford to live here encourages people to perform better. They believe that it's best to pit workers against one another so that your only hope for a raise comes at the expense of someone else.

We believe merit pay's a good thing-- everyone likes to be rewarded for doing a good job and we salute their attempts to do that. However, as we've seen time and again, merit doesn't work out in the way it's intended. When budgets run low, merit pay gets cut; personality conflicts with managers prevent good workers from getting rewarded; workers who do that outstanding work that Dave's looking for receive 1 percent increases because anything more would be too costly to the company.

So that's why we're trying our hardest to get you a raise you can count on. No one should have to worry that they can't make their rent because the merit pool's run low. If they want to hand out merit, they can go ahead and give as much as they want-- we have never and will never stand in the way of the recognization of great performance. We just don't want that to people's only chance to get by.

So where does that leave us? We'll come back to the table next Friday morning with our modified counter proposal. In the end, we'll probably end up somewhere between the 6 percent we want and the 1 percent they're offering. Janiga indicated that they're expecting something in the 2.5 percent range, which would be on the low side of what we're hearing from The Newspaper Guild office. It's hard to say where it'll ultimately end, it's hard to say when. We remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement swiftly, but we've still got quite a ways to go on both sides before we get there.

In the meantime, let me say this to all of you who've supported us and lent a hand have done a fantastic job. You're the ones we're fighting for, you're the ones who've gotten us here. It'll be awhile before we see what this new contract will bring, but I can say without reservation that you've made this into a better place than when we started three years ago. Thank you for all you've done and keep at it-- hopefully, the reward will be around the corner.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Catching Up With Steve Dilbeck

Sports columnist Steve Dilbeck has been with the Daily News for about six years after transferring from the San Bernardino Sun. He works from home and out in the field-- sometimes very far out, as he did covering last summer's Olympic Games in Athens. Known for his broad-ranging, insightful columns, he has one of the paper's most recognizable voices in his award-winning work.

Q. Where did you start at the Daily News?
A. I started as NFL-enterprise-backup beat writer, a kind of jack of all trades thing. I started filling in for Dodgers games then later filling in for columnists. In 2001 they gave me this huge tryout period (as a columnist), then it became permanent a little while after that.

Q. What's your favorite part of the day?
A. Filing.

Q. What's your least favorite part of the job?
A. One of the unfortunate aspects of the job is you never know when you're going to have to work. Somebody will ask if I can go to the kids' game and I never know. I don't know if I'll be covering a game or working from someplace far away. My schedule is somewhat unpredictable.

Q. When did you join the union?
A. February.

Q. Why did you decide to join?
A. I come from a union background. I was a member of the retail clerks union in college when I was working as a box boy at Vons market, then I was a union member again at UPS. I always felt I benefitted greatly from a union.
I have what I believe to be a very desired position at the Daily News. I'm not sure how joining will benefit me, but it can help everyone. I'm hoping it'll have an impact on the rest of the staff.
If you have people who have been around for a long time like I have been, it helps. I don't want to just think “well I got mine” and turn my back on it. I still very much feel like one of the troops.

Q. Why would you encourage others to join?
A. The union at the Daily News is an interesting situation, because you don't have to join. In most places you're either in the union or you don't work. That makes it more difficult here, because it's easy for people to keep their $20 a month and figure, if the union gets me a 2 percent raise, great. It's easy to be selfish. I've been guilty of it for years.

(Q&A conducted by Candice Choi, one of our emeritus members)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Negotiations, Round 2

Just wanted to catch you up on Friday's bargaining session, which went smoothly and quickly. Though we're just getting into the rocky stuff-- the money-- we hope the tone of discussion will continue in the next two dates, paving the way for a beneficial contract for all.

Friday's session, held at the Warner Center Marriott, started with the company's response to our initial proposals. Dave Butler, HR director Laurie Knight and their negotiator Jim Janiga sat on the company's side, Kerry Kandel, union vice president Vicki DiPaolo and I represented our side.

Their response was a mixed bag, showing progress on some matters and no movement on others. On the plus side, they seemed responsive to adding language allowing us to be reimbursed for professional conferences, such as Investigative Reporters & Editors or the National Writer's Workshop.

Additionally, we discussed the situation of working a holiday without receiving bonus pay (this is a very rare occurrence, happening only on years when a holiday like Christmas falls on the weekend and the company gives everyone a three day weekend. For a handful of weekend shift people who'd have normally had the added day off, they get no bonus for being away from their families). While they didn't want to add language to the contract, it raised awareness of the situation and Butler agreed to remind managers to provide those affected with another day off elsewhere or other fair compensation.

On the downside, they wouldn't budge on the dues deduction language you'd asked for, nor did they want to add Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday or a second floating holiday. While these will be tough fights, we're going to dig in and do our best to win them.

After that opening, we got down to the most serious business, our economic proposal.

"We feel like we're playing catch up," Vicki told them. "There's been a lot of turnover and people are feeling seriously impacted by housing prices, gas, rent and their dollar buying less. We'd like to see wages a little more comparable to other media companies in Southern California."

With that in mind, we asked for a 6 percent wage increase for each of the three years of the contract. We believe this is more than fair, given the state of the economy and the strain placed upon all of us with the soaring cost of living here in California. While it's unlikely that the company will see it our way, we'll defend this because it's so important for all of us. Whether you're a columnist or a copy clerk, a pay raise helps everyone.

Additionally, we asked to raise the night shift differential to $5 per shift from its current $3.30 to offset the impact of people being away from their families and social lives so often. Janiga didn't seem interested in entertaining that proposal, saying "This is a newspaper, people work at night. I'm not excited about any night shift differential. People know what it's like to work at a newspaper."

We disagree, because we know how hard it is to give up every night to put the paper out, so we'll see if we can find a fair compromise. We also asked to increase the photographers' car allowance to $45 per day and to improve the per mile reimbursement for people required to use their cars to the IRS rate (currently 40.5 cents per mile). Finally, we also asked for $10 per pay period for people required to use their cell phones for work to reimburse them for the calls they make for work.

The company took the proposal and asked to adjourn until the next session to calculate the economic impact. While there's doubtlessly going to be a lot of haggling over numbers until we get this agreed upon, we think things have begun very well. The real test will come next Friday, when they counter with their money proposals, but at least so far, things are looking good.

So wish us luck next week, gang-- we'll need it, but we're feeling pretty good about things. As always, thanks for your support.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Support Miller & Cooper

Hey Guys,

Here's the final word on The Newspaper Guild's efforts to raise awareness of the Matthew Cooper/ Judith Miller case. If you folks are also members of SPJ, the Los Angeles chapter will be participating in both the leafleting and the moments of silence at noon. If you're near downtown, please consider heading over to the courthouse to hand out leaflets; if you're elsewhere, take the two minutes to stand in silence for our colleagues who could be headed to jail.

Even if they don't go to jail tomorrow, the leaflet campaign will continue to raise awareness of the need for a national shield law to protect journalists. They're not asking much, so we should all get behind this.


From Vicki:

Tomorrow morning (July 6) at 11:30am until 1:00pm we will be leafleting in front of the U.S. Courthouse 312 North Spring St Los Angeles.

Cooper's notes are being turned over to the court in the morning - Miller will determine if Miller is going to jail.We need to watch this.

If you can't make it out to leaflet show your support by standing at noon for two minutes (one minute each for Cooper and Miller).

If you have any questions please call me on my cell 562-260-8378. Also check out the Guild website and get on the Guild activist list.

Thanks. - Vicki

Monday, July 04, 2005

Stand Strong.

Hey Folks,

Man, where to start? That Dickens line about the best of times and the worst of times comes to mind...

The Daily News is again in one of its periodic times of intense shift, with the changes in metro and the departure of sports editor Doug Jacobs. And I think this is a preview of the months to come, where more jobs will be moved, more tasks will be redefined, the paper will attempt to reinvent itself anew. And that's going to be hard on all of us to figure out how we fit into it.

We're in the middle of contract talks and while they've started positively, that will add even more uncertainty until both sides sign on that final page. We expect to have it worked out soon and believe that we'll be able to bring back some nice improvements for all of us. Until that day comes, we'll keep you all in the loop to ensure you know what's happening.

So what to make of this period of flux? It's tough, it's hard, it's frustrating for everyone. People's lives are being completely changed, some for better, some for worse. We're going to stick up for everyone who needs it, in any way we can. That's what we're here for, the only reason the union exists -- by relying on one another, we will find a way to get through this to make sure the paper can adapt to changing market without forgetting the people who put it out every day.

Don't get me wrong, I get frustrated, too. I keep waiting for the day when they'll call that meeting to tell us "relax, the good times are here," but until that comes, I can take comfort in the fact that the people who make up this union are here to look out for each other. This isn't just me, isn't just the Contract Committee, it isn't the people in the local-- it's every one of you who speaks up, who helps out their friends and co-workers, who reminds us who and what we're working for every day.

And at the time we need it most, the union's at its strongest. Look at the names on this list, look around the newsroom. We're bigger, more responsive and better versed in how to respond to members' needs. The more people we've got with us, the better we can make that contract, so down the road we'll have better protection against shifts in the workplace.

With that in mind, I'd like you all to join me in welcoming ace photographer Hans Gutknecht to the union. As one of the paper's most lauded and respected staffers, his support will go a long way to making people recognize that we're a serious, powerful group now. He's a tough-minded, independent guy (as I know from the lengthy earfuls he's given me on politics and everything unions ought to do to adapt to the 21st century) and his membership will be a huge boost for everything we're trying to do.

So let me close now with a reminder that now, more than ever, we've got to stick up for each other. We're each other's safety lines, the ones who are going to keep this place going in those bad times and the good ones. And to nail that home, I'll finish with a line borrowed from John McCoy (who's got a great story to go along with it): Don't let the bastards get to you.

We're going to make it through this, just like we always do.

Thanks for everything,