Bargaining set for Aug. 6-7, important developments

The Indianapolis News Guild has some important new developments to share with you regarding our ongoing effort to craft a final contract that both negotiating teams can accept and that you, our duespayers, can ratify soon.

Acting on the advice of our parent union, TNG-CWA, we proposed to the company that we involve a federal mediator at this stage of the negotiations. Having received no objections from our verbal and written communications about the mediator, we contacted Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Commissioner Conrad Bowling and requested possible meeting dates from him. He offered Aug. 6 and 7 and we have accepted those dates. The company has agreed.

Also, we have filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the company, based on threats that management made to the Guild in the course of discussions over possible bargaining dates. The company threatened to issue a “last, best and final” proposal if we would not agree to certain bargaining dates. When we informed them that we were unable to agree to the certain specific dates that management was demanding, the company issued that “last, best and final” proposal. This violates labor law on several counts. Bargaining dates must be mutually agreeable and not something that one side dictates to another. In addition, a “last, best and final” proposal is something that is normally given after all attempts at a mutual agreement have been exhausted. It is not supposed to be used as a punitive tool to force the union to meet before it is ready to resume discussions. We believe the company’s actions are premature, punitive, regressive and illegal retaliation for our refusal to be unnecessarily rushed back to the table, as well as retaliation for Guild members daring to reject their previous package offer. We are contemplating additional charges with the NLRB.

The company did this after accusing the Guild in a meeting last Friday of “stalling” after we asked for an extra week to reconstitute our bargaining committee, which was devastated by layoffs of team members Sylvia Halladay and Michelle Watson. Simply put, the company still wants at least a 12 percent pay cut from the Guild-represented employees. See below for more details about what the company is now seeking. We also asked management to provide us with answers to an information request that they have had for many weeks now, and the company told us that their response to our request for information was contingent on our agreeing to their bargaining dates (another violation of labor law). They did eventually provide us with a response but it is lacking in any substantial details.

Star management and Gannett corporate lawyers want people to believe that we are unduly dragging out negotiations. Given the circumstances, we firmly believe we are acting appropriately in seeking the time to fully reconstitute our bargaining committee and seeking more information about the company’s supposed financial needs. We have NEVER refused to bargain; we have not agreed to the company’s timetable as to when the next meetings will take place and as a result, they have resorted to bully tactics. By the way, the company has never given us any explanation why they feel the meetings must take place right away.

Our motto since talks began in January is “Negotiate, don’t dictate” and we have sacrificed our pay through two furloughs and lost valued comrades. Given the economic climate, we believe that Guild members would agree to a wage freeze for two years and might accept some type of pay cut – especially if that cut isn’t permanent, or would improve when Gannett sees ad revenues improve.

But Gannett is claiming economic needs without providing proof, and they have so far failed to provide any relevant information to us regarding their justification for a double-digit percentage pay reduction. Guild President Tom Spalding asked Indy Star Publisher Michael G. Kane for an explanation of the numbers and was rebuffed, as many of you heard.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is an agency of the United States government that handles arbitration and mediation of labor disputes and contract negotiations. We are hopeful that the neutral mediator will be of assistance in reaching understandings that can lead to a finalized tentative agreement that both sides can accept. As we said before, we’re waiting to see if the company will accept the mediator’s invitation to meet.

Further complicating these negotiations is the fact that the company has been sending out mixed messages. They started on April 17, when we were told in a memo: “While Star Media has seen similar economic impact on our local business, we were able to fare better than the company as a whole.” They continued July 16, when Robert J. Dickey told analysts during a Gannett 2nd quarter earnings call: “I would tell you that our interstate group, which is Indianapolis, Midwest portion of the country, right now is our strongest performer.”

Another issue: The copy of the company’s last, best and final contract offer was purported by their side to (except for the wage proposal) to be identical to the tentative agreement previously provided to the Union – the deal that membership rejected 97-9 on June 30. Upon review, however, we find that the proposal is nowhere near identical and in fact we have identified a number of significant differences between this proposal and the previous package that was presented to Guild membership for a vote. This makes us wonder if we have received an incorrect version of their offer or if the company is being disingenuous.

How it shakes out (this is our initial review of their proposal and should not be considered a complete inventory of changes at this time):

  • An immediate 12 percent pay cut for all Guild represented employees, rather than a split 8% and 4% as in the rejected offer.
  • No pay increases for the two-year term of the contract, same as rejected offer.
  • Wage scales remain but no one advances for term of contract, same as rejected offer.
  • It completely eliminates merit pool language; rejected offer kept the merit pool language but the merit pool went dormant. New language would give managers a great deal of discretion regarding future merit pay increases.
  • Seniority language related to layoffs is much worse than the rejected offer.
  • Same 10 jobs lose OT.
  • More Guild positions become exempted than in rejected agreement.
  • Still allows paraprofessionals to write stories.
  • Still adds “custom publications” to management rights section.
  • Still adds “flexibility” language that leaves advertorial/editorial decisions to sole discretion of publisher and now does not include any exclusions of any classifications; rejected agreement excepted reporters, copy editors and photographers from advertorial work.

Changes from current contract there were not in rejected offer:

  • Outsourcing language has been put back in the offer; this was not in the rejected contract offer.
  • It eliminates the language that outlined how previous experience was used to figure out where new employees would start on the pay scale.
  • Adds a clause to sentence on poor review not being reason to reduce pay that says, “unless the Employer determines that a consistently poor performance rating in a current job classification merits a job transfer to a lower classification in lieu of termination.”
  • Employees who are removed from their positions by the company may move into lower paying jobs but only with Employer approval; current contract left decision to leave position for lower paying job to the employee.
  • Changes notification time of permanent change in work day (8 to 10 hours or 10 to 8 hours) to two weeks; current contract calls for 30 days notice.
  • Eliminates daily overtime.
  • Call backs guaranteed 3 hours of straight time minimum; current contract calls for 3 hours of OT minimum.
  • Allows scheduling of split days off for reporters based on requirements of beat.

View a PDF copy of the company’s contract proposal

And finally, it is uncertain whether the company is still demanding that the Guild drop our current arbitration on the December layoffs.

We’ll continue to fight on your behalf.

We are planning an internal survey to reassess what our members can live with.

Tom Spalding
President, Indianapolis Newspaper Guild

In consultation with our International


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Filed under 2009 Contract Negotiations, Grievances/Arbitration, Layoffs/Buyouts

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