Thursday, January 29, 2009

Contracts talk begin; no agreement on furloughs

Guild negotiators went to the table today to start hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement at the Daily News. The current contract expires in March. Armed with proposals which are, in the union's opinion, at the same time realistic and pragmatic given the company's current condition, the team was prepared to get down to business.

According to an email sent to bargaining unit members, the company's initial proposal is aggressive - offering no raise for two years, no restrictions on managers performing bargaining unit work, a cut to the vacation accrual cap by half and a one-month unpaid furlough for all Guild-covered employees.

Mandated unpaid furlough: MediaNews negotiator Jim Janiga cited the declining economy as an explanation for the company's macabre furlough proposal. Janiga explained that a week-long furlough amounts to a 12.5 % reduction in payroll expenses for the quarter. Furloughs, he added, are unprecedented within Media News. (Furloughs are now being implemented across the chain.)
"We don't want this to all of a sudden become a regular practice," Janiga explained. "But the situation is so desperate that the if all we do is terminate and lay people off, when the business does come back, whenever that is, we will have divested ourselves of talent and we're not going to be in a position to respond as quickly when business comes back."
The bargaining team rejected the company's proposed one-month furlough language which lead to heated discussions on the company's Jan. 28 announcement of a company-wide five day furlough.

"It's clear the company's proposal is a scare tactic to ease us into accepting a five-day furlough," said committee member George Sanchez. "But we'll continue to negotiate to avoid possible layoffs and reach an agreement that's equitable for everyone."

Daily News managers have reportedly been pressuring newsroom employees to schedule unpaid time off. Sanchez said "The union's relevance became clear to me when Janiga got on the phone to order managers at the Daily News to back off union employees" regarding the furlough.

At the end of the day, no agreement had been reached on the issue. Talks continue next week.

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