Star Management Negotiates by Threats

Management’s latest contract proposal to the Guild has come with a threat — agree to their demands to outsource the Copy Editing work and abandon our proposals or they’ll lay off five more people.

That’s right, the Company now says there are five (5) new jobs in jeopardy in addition to those of five (5) copy editors. What those additional jobs are isn’t clear.

Ronnie Ramos outlined the ultimatum in an email Friday, saying the Copy Desk must be gone by Nov. 30. He made it sound like the Star was being gracious last month when it cut only two producers and proposed to eliminate copy editors.

Yes, this latest proposal has a “we’ll-shoot-the-hostages” mentality to it. In the opinion of your bargaining team, it is a ridiculous non-starter. But our opinions matter little. What matters more is what YOU are willing to do about. To that end, we’ve called an emergency Guild Members meeting Wednesday night.

This threat comes after a series of email exchanges between Guild negotiator Lou Grieco and Gannett lawyer John Fenix. The two sides haven’t met face to face since Oct. 26.

The Guild’s most recent proposal would have given in on the outsourcing of the Copy Editing work but with an enhanced severance for the copy editors: Extending their pay and health insurance equal to 2 weeks per year of a worker’s service, plus an additional six (6) weeks; up to a maximum 52 weeks; the minimum severance would be 12 weeks.

In addition, the Guild proposed 3 percent a year across-the-board pay raises for remaining employees for the next three years, a minimum wage of $15 an hour (primarily affecting custodians) and a continuation of the health insurance arrangement with the UFW.

The Star rejected most of that.

The Star would agree to no guaranteed pay raises. They want to fund health insurance at a rate less than what’s being offered to other employees. And while they would abide by the current contract’s layoff provisions (1 week of severance per year of service) they would offer no severance enhancements beyond six (6) months of COBRA and setting a floor of 12 weeks as the minimum severance.

If this wasn’t dismal enough, The Star added a poison pill — a clause that would enable either side to re-open negotiations at any time during the 2-year life of the contract.

Essentially, it renders a contract meaningless.

There are ways we can push back against ultimatums. There are ways we can make noise. We’ll discuss these on Wednesday night and in the days ahead.

 

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Layoffs, contract talks and the potential for new outsourcing

Guild contract negotiations with IndyStar management began Tuesday, barely an hour after we were told two of our producers were laid off as part of the latest round of Gannett job cuts. Quickly, we learned, that the company’s intentions for job cuts aren’t over.

Gannett’s first proposal was to seek a change in the IndyStar contract that would allow local copy editing to be moved to the regional design studio in Louisville. Such a move would result in the elimination of seven jobs in Indianapolis, although two of the seven jobholders would be retained in new positions focused on proofreading headlines and front pages, and web production.

Guild leaders reacted with concern about the proposal, not only for the job losses but also for the potential damage to the quality of the news product. Late Tuesday afternoon, Guild leadership shared the outline of the company’s proposal with those potentially affected.

The Guild offered its own list of proposed contract changes, including:

> 3% annual wage increases over the next three years;

> A $15 minimum wage that would affect print plant custodians and sports clerks

> An extension of the Guild’s health care arrangement with the United Furniture Workers

> Adding the MLK Day as one of the Guild’s paid holidays;

> Expanded time off for funeral leave

> Increased holiday work pay

> Earlier Guild notification of employee performance issues

Guild president Bobby King opened the Guild’s case with some history: He noted that Tuesday’s layoffs were the seventh round of job reductions in eight years for the Star. He said half of the Guild’s current members were present for the 10% wage cut in 2009, and that some of them haven’t yet recovered those losses, much less kept up with inflation. He noted that custodians at the printing plant haven’t seen pay raises in more than four years. He promoted the benefits to both Guild members and management for the extension of the health care arrangement with the UFW. And he made the case that the remaining IndyStar workforce has willingly and eagerly adapted to whatever changes the evolving news business has demanded, producing work that has been honored both within Gannett and nationally.

Negotiations resume Wednesday.

The Guild represents approximately 75 IndyStar employees, including reporters, producers, copy editors, photographers, columnists and clerks.

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IndyStar’s refusal to share in new health costs isn’t good for anyone

An apple a day?

How ’bout a Band-Aid?

Not really a comprehensive plan for health care. But it seems that’s the ultimate destination for The Indianapolis Star’s employee health insurance.

Make a Difference Day, sponsored by The Indianapolis Star to promote children's literacy, Indianapolis, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.

Gannett’s ideal health insurance.

After allowing years of cost increases and coverage erosion, the Star’s management is searching for a new low this year on employee health coverage: It wants employees to absorb 100% of the cost increases. For workers with families — some of whom haven’t seen a cost-of-living pay raises in 4 years — this amounts to $1,000 a year in new costs.

That’s quite a pay cut.

It’s odd, too. The Star’s parent company, Gannett, is covering 100% of the cost increases at a paper in Wisconsin that has an identical health insurance arrangement as does The Star. The Indianapolis NewsGuild, which represents newsroom staff and custodial workers at the printing plant, is only asking that The Star split the burden of the cost increases.

The Guild has done what it can to soften the blow. Last year, we went out and found a new health plan that offered better coverage at the same or better costs as Gannett’s corporate plan. We’d like to renew it. But we also expect our employer to share in the cost increases due to inflation. But The Star has refused to split the burden, to share the costs.

This comes at a time when Star management has praised its workers for adapting to the digital-first world of news. It comes as The Star has done some things to try and make the office more lively and fun. What hasn’t followed is much in the way of pay and benefit improvements to employees. In fact, when it comes to health insurance, their efforts continue to get worse.

The NewsGuild cares about great journalism and it cares about the people who produce it. We urge The Star to help its workers be healthier. We urge The Star to share the costs.

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Why is The Star more stingy than Sheboygan?

Friends,

As we work to persuade Gannett to cover our 2016 health insurance cost increases, we learned something very interesting late last week: Gannett is already planning to do that for another of the newspapers in its chain.

We refer to the Gannett paper in Sheboygan, WI, which like us signed on last year with the United Furniture Workers as its insurance provider. Sheboygan’s management agreed to pay between 5 and 6 percent more in 2016, enough to cover the entirety of the health insurance cost increases at Sheboygan. That’s about the same price increase we face with our plan.

Yet for some reason, Star management insists that our people bear the full burden of the 2016 health insurance cost increases.  It’s a troubling move that for workers with families could amount to a pay cut of nearly $1,000 next year. Most other workers would see increases of $200 to $300 next year.

A year ago, The Guild went out and found a better insurance than Gannett’s, one that kept costs the same or lower while increasing benefits. In some cases, our members saved thousands of dollars. It was a win for The Star, too. The Guild’s insurance made The Star’s benefits package more attractive to potential new hires.

Now, it seems as if The Star is trying to take advantage of our savings by shifting more costs to employees rather than sharing the load next year. It’s not that way in Sheboygan. It doesn’t have to be that way here.

Are The Star’s employees and their families less valuable than Sheboygan’s? We don’t think so. Let us know what you think.

And stay tuned to this situation. We may ask you to take actions to help persuade The Star to take a lesson from Sheboygan, of all places.

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Star wants to shift more healthcare burden to employees

Star management has told the Guild it wants our members to bear the full burden of any health insurance cost increases for 2016, a troubling move that would amount to a pay cut for insured workers.

The Star wants to keep its contributions to our health insurance at 2015 levels, said Gannett HR business partner Julie Sawyer. The move comes even though health care costs are growing nationally by 7 to 10 percent.

The Star announced its intentions to freeze its contribution level after the Guild brought the company a rate quote from the United Furniture Workers that forecasts cost increases for 2016 at 4 to 6 percent. The benefits under the coverage — co-pays, deductibles and drug plans — would remain at 2015 levels.

Most people insured through the Guild’s plan would see their share of the insurance burden increase from $18 to $82 per month — increases ranging from 13 to 27 percent.

Guild leaders are deeply concerned about the potential cut into take-home pay. In response, we have proposed to split the burden of the cost increases with the company. Short of that compromise, Guild leaders are considering what collective action to call for from our members. The Guild’s window for action is short, however, as contractual deadlines and open enrollment windows approach.

The Star has not yet announced information about its rates and coverage levels for Gannett’s United Healthcare plan. Sawyer said she expects the 2016 insurance benefits package for the company plan to remain unchanged from 2015. She said she expects to hear information about the rate structure by Oct. 20.

Gannett’s annual ritual of shifting more health insurance costs to workers — while reducing benefits — led the Guild in 2014 to seek insurance through a third-party administrator. Essentially, the Guild negotiated with Gannett for the right to take their health insurance contributions and buy a better plan.

The result was coverage through the United Furniture Workers Insurance Fund, a nonprofit organization that serves union members. The new insurance offered lower deductibles, better drug plans and co-payments — all at similar and in some cases lower costs than Gannett’s plan. The feedback from members has been strongly positive about the move, with many members urging us to renew with the UFW for 2016.

Guild leaders are asking members for their feedback and urging them to stay tuned to a situation that could require quick action.

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New Health Insurance

After more than a year of effort and several months of negotiations, the Guild has successfully negotiated a deal giving us the right to go with a health insurance alternative to Gannett’s UnitedHealthcare. We did this because the monthly Insurance costs were lower and, in the case of one of the plans, the benefits are better.

This coverage applies to everyone covered by the Guild’s contract, including workers who are still receiving severance or COBRA coverage from previous Gannett layoffs. The change also meant that Gannett’s UnitedHealthcare was no longer an option.

The new insurance provider is the United Furniture Workers Insurance & Pension Funds, a non-profit organization that serves Communications Workers of America union members and their families across the United States. The Guild is part of the CWA.

The Guild finalized the deal with The Indianapolis Star on Dec. 8. A few days later, The Star informed us that former employees still getting COBRA benefits would follow us to the new coverage. The timing left us little breathing room to get everyone signed up on the new insurance. We completed the enrollment of our working staff in waves, the last of which ended Dec. 19.

For those severed workers outside the office, it is important that you look over the information mailed to you from the United Furniture Workers and return the completed enrollment and claim forms to the UFW as soon as possible. There is also a Payroll Deduction Form we need you to sign and return to the Guild as soon as possible. For severed workers who have been on the Star’s insurance, the rates are the same as for working staffers. For those covered by COBRA, the rates are slightly higher.

This enrollment has been a big effort turned around in a short time, but we trust that the extra work will be worth the better coverage and lower costs. If you have questions about the benefits, we urge you to call the UFW at 1-800-800-8860. If you have questions for the Guild, email us at indynewsguild@gmail.com.

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A tentative agreement on a new 2-year contract

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.

Bobby King

Guild president

  

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