Negotiations, Round 4 - We're Almost There.
We met today for a fifth time and while we unfortunately haven't reached an agreement yet, we're getting very, very close. Both parties are speaking the same language now, but we haven't quite found the same words we need to put this thing away. Both sides have shown tremendous progress in working toward each other's goal, so we're optimistic that when we meet again Monday, August 22, we'll come away with a deal that both sides can be proud of.
The company sent its vice president of labor relations, Jim Janiga, and human resources director Laurie Knight to bargain, while union vice president Vicki DiPaolo and bargaining committee members Kerry Kandel and Brent Hopkins represented the employees. Since we'd left a wage offer of roughly 3 percent per year for the next three years on the contract on the table when we left off, it was their turn to counter.
Janiga came out hard once again, offering a $15 per week increase in the first year, then 2 percent each of the following two years with a 1 percent merit pool, which is roughly what they're paying now. He said the company would prefer to have a higher merit pool and lower annual increases, noting that it was "reluctantly" going up to 2 percent. He also declined to address our request to increase the night shift differential from its current $3.30 per shift and proposed only to increase the minimum mileage reimbursement to 28 cents per mile. He didn't offer any improvement to the photographers' car allowance, currently set at a minimum of $30 per day.
Since we're following your wishes in trying to wrap this as quickly as possible and get everyone a raise, we requested a break to do some economic calculations. After Kerry reviewed the numbers, we figured that a 2.5 percent annual increase would be the best thing for as many people as possible. Wanting to stay within their stated goal of around a total 3 percent hike, we developed a counter proposal of 2.5 percent for everyone and a merit pool of 0.5 percent, which we think gives them enough money to reward excellent performance but still gives us all the annual security you've told us you want.
We also modified the duration of the proposed contract in a way that we believe will be advantageous to both sides. Janiga doesn't want to bargain in the summer, we want more guaranteed security, so we proposed an expiration date in February of 2009, giving us four 2.5 percent increases, then back to the tables six months after the last raise.
For the night differential, we dropped down to $3.60 per shift, which we felt was reasonable given Jim's past opposition to any improvements. We still believe it's important to give you folks who work at night some kind of recognition for the sacrifice of working that shift, so we're not giving up on that yet. As a final thing, we proposed that the minimum mileage reimbursement not fall below 32.5 cents per mile and that the photographers' car allowance be set at a minimum of $37.50 per day.
So that's what we gave them, which they spent considerable time kicking around. Late in the day, they came back with a counter that showed a little movement, but rather than take anything that both sides weren't happy with, we both agreed to mull things over and meet next week.
"We've reviewed the proposal, but we feel that our last offer was more than reasonable," Vicki told them. "With wages, the 0.5 percent gives you a pool that can accomodate the company's desire to pay merit, but the 2.5 percent gives us the sense of security we need in the scales."
Janiga nodded, then said "I understand your proposal as clearly as you understand ours. Reflect further, we'll do the same. I'd really like to nail this down-- since we're so close-- within the next week."
So that's it for now, guys. We've been impressed with their willingness to move toward what we want so far and share their desire to get things wrapped up quickly. We hope that with one more week of mulling it over, that we'll end up with what we both need.