Friday, August 05, 2005

Negotiations, Round 4

The delicate dance between the company and the union continued today, as we met for our fourth session of contract negotiations. While we adjourned without reaching a deal, scheduling to meet again on Monday, August 15, the two sides moved a lot closer and struck a tone that gave us optimism that we'll soon have a better contract in hand.

This was the first session without Dave Butler on the company's side, with only human resources director Laurie Knight and vice president of labor relations Jim Janiga bargaining for the Daily News. Bargaining team members Kerry Kandel, Brent Hopkins and union vice president Vicki DiPaolo took the union side. While they didn't exactly enthusiastically embrace our proposals, the company showed some movement and gave us a better idea of what they're looking for.

Since they made it clear that our 6 percent annual raises for the next three years was out of their ballpark and that they were more interested of something around 2.5 percent, we began with a modified proposal. We asked for an immediate $2,400 annual raise for everyone ($50 per week), followed by two years of 4 percent annual increases. Since they've argued in the past that the current system discriminates against lower paid workers, this would give them a greater percentage boost up front, then everyone would enjoy similar raises in the future.

In addition, we adjusted our mileage reimbursement request to 35 cents per mile, and kept our requests for that the company add one more floating holiday, increase the night differential of $4 per shift and raise the photographers' car allowance to $40 per day. We also kept firm that employees who use their cell phones for work receive $10 a month to offset the costs.

Janiga did not respond well to the wage proposal, choosing to look at the lowest paid workers' percentage increase and complaining that it would be a 13% hike. He suggested that altering the wage scales would have no affect on recruiting, that the Daily News had trouble attracting people from out of state because of the high cost of living. We disagreed, pointing out that managers have said quite pointedly that they're unable to attract the type of talent the paper requires with the wage framework it offers.

And sure, people don't want to deal with California cost of living if they're not going to be paid well.

"A $50 (per week) increase in scale wouldn't make a difference if someone wants to come here," he said. "Even if it did, we couldn't afford to pay it. We're dealing with a budget of less than 3 percent for raises and a historical pattern of less than 3 percent. I'm not suggesting that your aims aren't noble, but they're so far out of the realm of possibility that we'd be here forever."

He countered with a three years of annual wage increases of 1.5 percent, with the existing merit pool of 1 percent. Once again, he offered to increase the minimum mileage rate to 28 cents, with no adjustment to the photographers' allowance, no night shift increase and no holiday. For the first time, however, he offered $10 a month for cell phone reimbursement.

While this wasn't what we were hoping to hear, it was a small step in the right direction-- and we're glad he recognizes that the union has noble aims. But since we're interested in reaching an agreement swiftly with an improvement in wages (as per your requests), we decided to run some numbers of our own to see how we could get a little closer to his numbers while still making progress for everyone.

So here's what we came up with, the offer that's currently sitting on the table. We asked the company for an immediate raise of $1,200 ($25 per week), with 3 percent annual raises for the following two years. That pencils out to around 3 percent for everyone in the first year, though the low wage earners will feel a slightly better bump-- and they're the ones who need it most drastically.

We also reluctantly dropped our floating holiday request, modified our night differential request to $3.75 per shift and set the minimum mileage reimbursement to 32.5 cents per mile.

We did, however, stand on the $40 per day request for the photographers' car allowance. While other employees have some flexibility on how they use their cars, the photo crew does not. We used all the arguments that you gave us, pointing out that you can't phone in a photo, you've got to take it no matter what the circumstances and where the location ends up. We talked about the abuse you put into your vehicles, all because you want to do the best job you possibly can.

And something strange happened-- Janiga agreed. Usually, they just look at the numbers and all the arguments in the world won't convince them, just dollars. While he said they'd have to do the math and that he wasn't promising any increases, he said something that was rather unusual.

"That's the best argument I've ever heard for why the photographers deserve to be paid differently from everyone else," he said. "If there's a fire, they don't just drive down the road, they take the fire road. If it's flooded, well, they just keep going."

Who knows what he'll come back with, but for all of you who responded to our questions about the photo allowance, take heart. Your answers made that difference and finally struck a chord. Let's hope that Janiga will be more sympathetic when he does his arithmetic back at the office.

So that's where we're at, folks. We've got a little more than a week for them to mull it over, but as we ended, they definitely seemed like they were receptive to what we're asking for. There'll undoubtably be some more back and forth, but it feels like we're on the right track.

And that's because of you guys-- the company knows of our growing strength, they know that you're passionate and involved. Each thing that we proposed came from members, each argument we've employed was supplied by you folks. When we have this deal, hopefully soon, we'll have you to thank.

Thanks for your time and should you need anything else, let Kerry, Brent or Vicki know what you need.


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