We essentially fought the company to a draw.
The Guild fended off the company’s most odious contract proposals on severance pay but had to accept a new 2-year deal that brings no guarantees of wage increases. In the view of your bargaining team, it leaves much to be desired. But it also is the best deal we’re likely to get.
The agreement Wednesday came just a few hours after a midday meeting of Guild members where passions were high and – with no agreement in sight – we were talking street protests.
From the sentiments shared at that meeting, the Guild’s bargaining team found a pathway to a deal – we would drop our pay raise request in order to kill the company’s proposal to do away with severance pay for workers fired after being deemed poor performers.
This was important because so many of you said that proposal could easily be used by the company to make it easier and cheaper to fire folks who have fallen out of favor. It was also increasingly clear the company would not budge on wages, raising the prospects of an ugly stalemate and potentially an impasse.
Several aspects of this deal amount to making the best of a difficult situation. Some examples:
*The company will begin its job cuts by seeking people willing to accept voluntary layoffs. Those accepted will get normal severance payments but also, because of this deal, health insurance coverage during the severance.
*Severance and health care coverage will also apply to employees not chosen for jobs in the new organizational chart.
*Downtown building service workers whose jobs will disappear because of the move to Circle Center Mall will get an additional four weeks of severance pay.
The Guild also fended off the company’s proposal to use temp workers on an unlimited basis. Previously, the contract limited temps to three months, six if the Guild agreed to an extension. As a compromise, we agreed to allow temps to be employed with the company for one year.
There were some other language revisions on advanced notification before layoffs, on pay scale minimums and on job titles that will reflect the new reorganization.
We know that the victories here were mainly defensive. But in such a challenging environment for newspapers your show of support over these many months – and especially in these final days – helped us emerge in a better position than we might have. We’re also quite convinced that, compared with other Gannett papers without Guilds, the workers whose jobs are about to disappear will fare much better.
These next few weeks – as the reorganization takes hold – promise to be difficult, even painful. But the lesson from these negotiations is that we are much stronger when we hang together.
Most striking in these final days was how selfless our members were. Those whose tenure here appears to be ending were still concerned about the need for wage increases for workers who will remain. Those who expect to be here when the dust settles were concerned about preserving the severance for those more vulnerable. It was an uncommon level of altruism; we were humbled by it.
Not to be overlooked are the countless hours the Guild bargaining team put into this endeavor. Jill Disis, Michael Campbell and Bob Scheer took part at different points. These past three days of marathon sessions involved Jill Phillips, Tony Cook, DuJuan Carpenter, Michael Pointer, John Russell and TNG sector representative Jay Schmitz. They represented you passionately and aggressively. They sacrificed long hours from their jobs and their families. It was a privilege to work with them.
Finally, we know some aspects of mobilizing sometimes feel silly. How many Fridays can one wear red? How many helium-filled balloons does it take to get a decent contract? But we know for a fact that, in the end, your willingness to show your colors made it clear to management that we were united, and the Guild wasn’t to be taken lightly.
We hope that as many of you as possible will, along with your families, join us this Sunday for our outing at the Indians game at Victory Field. After such a heavy week, let’s enjoy a day of fun at the ballpark. See Vic Ryckaert for tickets.