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.


Blogger Oxnard St. said...

We appreciate the update. Thank you for fighting the good fight and keeping the best interest of all those who work at the Daily News in mind.

10:55 AM  

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