Representatives of the Chicago Newspaper Guild met Friday Dec. 14 with negotiators for Wrapports/Sun Times Media in a bargaining session at which the parties officially presented contract offers to each other. We have met since August in a series of “modified traditional bargaining” sessions, but Friday’s meeting was the first traditional session.
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The Guild was dismayed to see that Wrapports’ three-page “offer” for a three-year contract includes only three demands:
- Creation of a new, lower-paid classification of reporters, photographers, designers and copy editors, to work at units for up to two years, for as low as $13.50 per hour. Up to five of these so-called interns could work at any Guild unit, in hopes of being hired permanently;
- Establishment of a 10 hour day before overtime is paid. Pioneer Press employees already labor under this extraordinary requirement, and the Company wants to impose it on all Guild-represented units that now operate under more reasonable overtime parameters;
- Maintenance of the existing Memorandum of Understanding, which in 2009 cut our pay a minimum of 15 percent through various mechanisms, and which cut our job security by eliminating most of the jurisdiction and seniority protections embedded in our contracts.
Zero, Zero, Zero
The Company thus told us that it does not care enough about us to restore our pay to 2009 levels. It told us that it has no intention of returning money we gave up in order to save it. We were told in 2009 that unless we agreed to the MOU, the company would die. With that gun to our collective heads – and with the understanding that the MOU would end – we saved a company only days from dissolution.
Three years later, with new owners who say they are pouring money into making Wrapports/Sun Times Media a success, the Company has told us that we are not worth any of that money. Our award-winning reporters and photographers, our brilliant artists, designers and top-notch copy editors are not worth any money, and do not merit the respect of a reasonable offer.
The Company told us last December it was going to see a $10 million savings from closing its printing plant, and that the windfall would benefit us. Instead, the new owners paid $3 million to buy the Reader. We’ve gotten nothing but candy.
Eight, Eight, Eight
The Guild presented a real offer.
We are asking for a three-year contract with three annual pay increases of eight per cent each. This represents a phased restoration of lost salaries, plus annual increases of three percent each year. We recognize that salary restoration can be done in this fiscally responsible manner.
We are asking for provisions that institute salary equity for our Pioneer Press, Gary Post Tribune, Joliet Herald News, and Waukegan News-Sun units, as well as for employees of STNGWR, who provide news coverage for the Sun Times news wire operation. This would ensure that employees of all these units will be paid equal salaries by the end of the contract. The provision also ensures that these employees – whose work helps sustain what the Company insists is a daily operation across all its locations – will earn roughly 86 percent of what Guild employees at the Chicago Sun Times are paid, again by the end of three years.
Pension: The Guild knows the MOU stripped retirement security from its members in a variety of ways: freezing pensions, ending them, or both, at several units; and ending company matches for 401K plans at other units where those matches were the only evidence of Company involvement.
We have researched a groundbreaking pension restoration option and presented it to the Company. The Adjustable Pension Plan, or APP, eliminates much of the risk that causes companies to dump their defined benefit pension plans. It also eliminates the insecurity that 401K defined contribution plans represent for employees, by providing some level of guaranteed monthly retirement income.
An APP would allow Wrapports/Sun Times Media to provide true retirement security for employees, for little more money than it now spends maintaining its remaining inadequate retirement options (one that could be expanded to all Company employees, not just Guild members.) The New York Times and the Guild negotiated an APP in their recent contract; unions and companies elsewhere across the nation are exploring the option now. We believe it is a conservative, fiscally responsible and realistic retirement program that could put Wrapports/Sun Times Media at the forefront of America’s employee-respecting corporations.
Medical plans: The Guild is working with its broker to obtain premium offers from several health care providers, with the objective of lowering current premiums for all covered employees.
Minority residency: The Guild recognizes that Wrapports/Sun Times Media covers the metropolitan Chicago area and its surrounding communities – an area rich with minority communities – without correspondingly high levels of minority representation in its newsrooms. We have offered a residency program that will help correct this deficit.
A Single Contract: Our new owners have repeatedly told us, and the world, that Wrapports/Sun Times Media is now a daily operation. It speaks of the company as one entity. We not only recognize the reality of that, we are including that reality in our offer – one company, one contract.
Opening the Books
The company has offered to open its financial books to the Guild, but wants a signed confidentiality agreement from us before doing so. We have told the Company that we are interested in seeing those numbers, but intend to negotiate any confidentiality agreement through our public sessions.
The MOU Must Go!
We remain certain that the Company can be convinced to abandon its initial disrespectful offer and engage in meaningful negotiations. We are meeting this Thursday at 10 a.m. in Skokie, at the Illinois Federation of Teachers office, 9933 N. Lawler Ave., Suite 22. The site is only moments from the Old Orchard Road exit of the Edens, and easily accessible to many of our members. We encourage everyone from our suburban Chicago Pioneer unit to take a few minutes Thursday to observe negotiations, and extend the invitation to all Local members. We also urge you to join your colleagues in Guild activities we believe will tell the communities we cover about our mission to regain reasonable pay and job security. Visit our web page at www.chicagonewsguild.org; talk to your unit representatives. We look forward to seeing you on Thursday, and working with you in the near future.