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.


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