Negotiations Update, March 6

A Fishy Wrapp

The March 6 negotiating session between the Guild and the Company didn’t start well.

Chief Company negotiator Ted Rilea’s began by stating that company negotiators didn’t work for Wrapports. It worked for Sun-Times LLC.

It wasn’t negotiating one unified contract for all of its union employees, it wanted five contracts for five locations, four of them already closed or due to shut down. And it preferred to offer no new language. The Memorandum of Understanding in place since 2009, stripping our rights and gutting our salaries, was just fine in the Company’s eyes.

That would be the Memorandum of Understanding Guild employees took under threat; accept it or the Company disappears.

And that Company would be would be the one helmed by Tim Knight, on behalf of owner Michael Ferro and the investors of … Wrapports.

Once done with the semantic silliness, however, the Company’s team continued to negotiate with us, and to discuss the revised contract proposal we presented in the wake of the Wrapports consolidation announced earlier this year.

To that end, the sides have signed a confidentiality agreement requiring the Company to meet with us and show us its 2011 and 2012 income statements. That should take place soon, under the eyes of negotiating team representatives, and an auditor brought in on our behalf by The Newspaper Guild and the Communications Workers of America. Getting real figures could help sweep away obfuscations and the kind of head-scratching claims of complete poverty in which the the company has indulged so far. (For instance, we were told that the Company’s quick analysis of our salary proposal would hike Wrapports/Sun-Times budget by millions upon millions of dollars. While we’re heartened that they took the time to analyze a unified salary proposal — despite Rilea’s contention that It Ain’t Gonna Happen — our own preliminary financial estimates are nowhere near as high. Our eyebrows remain will remain raised until we see the real numbers.)

We spent much of Wednesday’s session on the effects of geographic consolidation on our members, particularly those suburban employees who, now have no permanent base of operations.

Negotiating the potential effects of the consolidation, negotiation required by law, even though the Company has the right to consolidate, is difficult when the Company acts first — closing offices, moving copy editors and editorial assistants — before negotiating such effect. It’s even more difficult when it’s clear the Company doesn’t know, from day to day, what or when it plans to do anything.

Contrary to the Company’s representation, consolidation isn’t simply a matter of reporters and photographers doing what they have always done when they must intermittently report from the field. It means employees whose working options are permanently reduced to some version of the following: a) uploading pictures in their cars, and risking being told to leave a parking lot or a suburban residential block by police patrols; b) doing phone interviews at a Starbucks that expects one to buy a double-skim latte every so often or get kicked out; c) writing from home if one is lucky enough to have a beat close to home.

We urged the company to answer such questions before telling us it knows what it’s doing, or claiming it has properly negotiated the effects of consolidation.

Despite the intransigence of Rilea’s opening salvo, we saw at least one small sign that the Company can take positive action, when it chooses to listen. After we told the team that some suburban managers had ordered staff not to work from home, they said that wasn’t the case. They contacted the powers that be. Many of our reporters got word within minutes via email that they could work from home when necessary.

Turnaround before the end of a session; we know they can do it, we’re glad when they do it.

Now we want them to show they can do more. We certainly intend to show them that we can do more.

The next bargaining session is March 19.

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