Guild President Tim O’Brien bids farewell

Dear Colleagues:

It’s with strong emotions I write to let you know that I am leaving the Times Union, and my role as your Guild president, for a new job as a public information officer for the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the Governor’s Task Force on Traffic Safety.

While I am excited about this new opportunity, I will deeply miss so many friends I have made here as well as the work I have enjoyed so much.

I will also miss being your president. I have held the office for more than 17 years, the longest tenure in our local’s history. It has enabled me to get to know so many people, upstairs and down. It’s also made me a better employee as I have come to a greater understanding of how all the various departments work and how they pull together to create this wonderful newspaper.

I also want to thank our members. These recent years have not been easy, but you all have held together so well and made clear you appreciate the benefits the Guild provides. I hope the company and your new leadership will find a way to give you the contract and raises you deserve. You have my full support. (And I will remain a union member with PEF.)

With my departure, there will be three open seats on the Executive Board as Cindy Schultz and Mike Huber left before me. Please consider taking a seat on the board. Now more than ever, the Guild needs your support.

I am profoundly grateful to all of the people I have served with over the years. The remaining board members — Brian Nearing, Marianne Mahr, Mark Hempstead and Jennifer Rodd — are terrific representatives but they need and deserve your help. Over the years, I was always amazed that when board members left, someone always stepped up. When we needed a chief steward, Brian took on the task and became an invaluable partner.

Please think seriously about joining the board. You are needed, you will feel good helping your colleagues, and it will make you a better employee. And it could lead to other career opportunities.

Best of luck to all and if you’re in downtown Albany, especially in summer when the lunch trucks are out, let me know and I’ll gladly meet you for lunch.

Forever in solidarity,

Tim

Committee recommends how to use Marv Cermak bequest

Members are invited to an Executive Board meeting at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, at the Colonie Public Library to discuss the proposal.

The Guild established a committee to discuss and recommend what to do with the $50,000 bequest the union has received from longtime reporter Marv Cermak.

Here is the recommendation in the committee’s own words:

“After much discussion, all seven members agreed that offering a Guild award yearly to two outstanding Times Union employees (who are also Guild members in good standing) is the best suggestion we can offer for the funds.

The Cermak Award, consisting of $1,000, would be awarded to one Guild member in Editorial and another from Advertising, Business, Finance, Circulation etc. each year for outstanding work at the Times Union and dedication to their craft and the business of supporting and publishing the news. Such an award can also take into consideration how such a person juggled other challenges in their lives (say if their excellent work at the Times Union happened while they also took care of an ailing relative at home, or if they themselves were battling a serious condition etc. But such a hardship is certainly not a prerequisite for winning).

Nominating forms would be located in every department along with a drop box, or people could reach out to the award committee chairperson on how to nominate someone.  Criteria for nominating and selecting would be established in a document detailing the contest, and such selection would be done by a Cermak Award committee.

The selection of each year’s two winners would be a secret until it’s announced at the Guild’s annual Holiday Party.”

Please come to the meeting Thursday to participate in discussion of the proposal.

The Executive Board thanks the committee members for their work on this issue. They are Lauren Stanforth, committee chair, Lisa Morey, Tyswan Stewart, Frank Giachetti, Susan Smith, Linda Crowley and Brian Nearing.

Despite buyouts, Times Union lays off 3 employees

The Times Union laid off three workers Thursday: two Guild members and one exempt manager.

The decision came despite the fact that the Company appeared to meet its stated goals under a buyout program. The Company had said it wanted to cut the number of employees by 10 to 15, with the number depending on how highly paid the workers were.

Seven Guild members accepted the buyout offer, and four managers also left. The Company also had said it would count an exempt manager who left around the time of the buyouts, and a Guild-covered employee handling obituaries also left and was not replaced. A top newsroom manager also has announced she will be leaving for a new job.

“We are very disappointed to see three people involuntary discharged,” Guild President Tim O’Brien said. “This was a sad day for all employees.”

One of the Guild members let go was a 26-year employee known as an energetic and loyal worker in the advertising department, often seen shuttling between sales and advertising art.

The other was a worker with 12 years of experience, who started in the circulation department before being promoted to a position in the business office.

Both are highly regarded by their colleagues, and they were told the job cuts were due to fiscal issues and not their stellar performances.

Under the conditions imposed by the company in 2009, the language that required layoffs to be by reverse order of seniority within a department was changed to “by job title.” In some cases, as with the 26-year employee, there are positions held by a single person. This was not a change the Guild favored, but it was imposed on our members.

Unions strike bargain to move to MVP

The unions at the Times Union agreed Thursday to switch to MVP for next year’s health care after a deal was struck where the Company will pay the difference if two people in a household exceed the current $6,850 out-of-pocket maximum.

Rather than face the potential $8,000 maximum – although $3,250 of that is reimbursed by the company – the members would not have to pay any more than they do now.

The potential risk of that higher out-of-pocket maximum for families with multiple people facing serious illness was the major concern the Teamsters union and the Guild had with the proposal.

The company’s insurance manager said of the 7 people who hit the top of the out-of-pocket maximum this year, two were individuals and 5 were in family plans. In all five cases, one person in the family was the large claimant and no one else in the family spent more than $1,000 on health care. That means that no family would have faced the $8,000 out-of-pocket maximum as proposed by MVP. Still, the past is no predictor of the future so there was no guarantee.

Credit goes to Stefan Krueger of the Teamsters union, who hit upon the idea of asking the Company to pay the difference if that scenario were to arise. The Company had said keeping Blue Cross would cost it $68,000 more a year, a cost it would look to make up elsewhere like cutting another reporter or press worker.

Moving to MVP would cause a weekly increase out of paychecks of $4.04, from $58.90 a week to $62.94.If we stayed with Blue Cross, the weekly premium would rise $5.54 to $64.44.

MVP is also willing to guarantee that the health care increase next year would start at no more than 14.5 percent. While that is larger than we would like, Blue Cross this year started at 29 percent. Given the great uncertainty as to what will happen next year, it is a benefit to have some limit for 2018.

Company extends buyout offer to 9 Guild-covered workers

Nine of the 16 Guild-covered employees who applied for the buyout have had their offers accepted.

Of the nine, seven work in the editorial department and two in advertising.

While the Company has informed the employees of their selection, the workers have 45 days from when they are given the release to decide whether to take the buyout or decline.

Once an employee signs the buyout agreement, that person then has 7 days to rescind it. After that, the agreement is complete. Employees who get the buyout are expected to leave by year’s end.

A few non-Guild employees are also leaving and will be counted toward the Company’s stated goal of 10 to 15 staff reductions. We don’t yet know how many.

Guild gets more details on health care for 2017

Union leaders met with the Company late last week to continue the conversation about health care for 2017.

The Guild’s Executive Board will discuss this further and decide what to do next at its regular monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at its office on the second floor of the Albany Labor Temple, 890 Third St., in Albany. Members are always welcome to attend and give their input.

The union leaders sought information on the differences in the maximum out-of-pocket costs under the two plans. The shortest version is: MVP would be less expensive than Blue Cross if an individual gets sick within a family. It would be more expensive if an individual gets sick in an individual plan or if two people within a family get sick and both hit their individual maximums.

Under the current plan, the aggregate maximum is $3,425 for an individual and $6,850 for a family. Under the MVP plan, an individual faces an embedded maximum of $4,000 and the family embedded maximum is $8,000.

The best way to understand this is to share examples of a family affected by illness or injury.

FAMILY COVERAGE, ONE INDIVIDUAL HITS THE TOP OF THEIR DEDUCTIBLE

Under the Empire plan, the deductible is $4,000. (Employees pay the first $750, the Times Union reimburses the rest.) Once an individual hits that $4,000, that person becomes liable for 10 percent of medical costs up to $2,850. The maximum out of pocket, then, is $6,850 minus the company reimbursement of $3,250 for a total of $3,600.

Under the MVP plan, the individual would not face additional expenses after hitting that initial $4,000. The total out-of-pocket would be $4,000 minus the $3,250 reimbursement for a total of $750. That’s the best scenario. The cost is $2,850 less.

FAMILY COVERAGE, SECOND FAMILY MEMBER HITS TOP OF DEDUCTIBLE

Under the Empire plan, the result would be exactly the same as above, for a total of $3,600.

Under MVP, the second family member would also have a $4,000 maximum deductible. (A family would have a total maximum of $8,000.) So the cost of two very sick people in a family would be the original $4,000 deductible then paying 10 percent of medical expenses up to another $4,000. Of that $8,000, a total of $3,250 would be reimbursed by the company. The total out-of-pocket is $4,750 or $1,150 more than Blue Cross.

INDIVIDUAL WITHOUT FAMILY HITS TOP OF DEDUCTIBLE

The deductible for an individual is $2,000 under both plans. Under the Blue Cross plan, once a person started paying 10 percent of health care, their maximum liability would be $1,425. That’s $3,425 minus the Company reimbursement of $1,250 for a total cost to the individual of $2,175.

Under the MVP plan, the individual has the $2,000 deductible. The person would then be liable for up to $2,000 more once they hit the 90/10 split. That’s a total cost of $4,000 minus the $1,250 company reimbursement for a total cost of $2,750. That’s $575 higher than under Blue Cross.

So far in 2016, three individuals and 7 families hit the maximum out-of-pocket cost.

If we stayed with Blue Cross, the weekly premium taken from paychecks would rise $5.54 from $58.90 to $64.44. Moving to MVP would cause a weekly increase of $4.04 to $62.94.

Eight Guild members opted last year to take a new option the Company presented. Under that program, employees pay for the first $3,000 of medical expenses out of pocket for a lower weekly payroll deduction for individuals and couples. Under that plan, the weekly cost would rise from the current $20.54 for singles to $23.93 and from $40.06 for couples to $46.66. (The rate for families would be $69.40, higher than the main plan.)

16 Guild members apply for buyouts

Sixteen employees covered by the Guild applied for the buyouts offered by the Company.

The workers will learn Monday which ones the Times Union has approved. The individuals will then have 45 days to decide whether to accept the buyout offer or to stay. Once employees sign the paperwork,  they have seven days to change their minds and rescind the decision.

Some of the employees who applied for the buyout did so because they are on the bottom of the seniority scale, would prefer to stay but wanted the extra pay and/or health care if forced to go. Others applied to keep their options open while looking to see if they could find another job within the 45-day period. And many applied because they have already decided to take advantage of the extra pay and health-care coverage to leave voluntarily.

We expect there will also be some non-Guild employees who leave and whose departure will be counted toward the Company’s stated goal of reducing the staff by 10 to 15 employees.

We’ll share more details next week once we learn how many buyout offers the Company has made.