Company offers little but gets an earful

The Company rejected a Guild offer Tuesday to increase employees’ share of health-care costs, instead insisting on a 9 percent leap within less than two years. The two out of town lawyers now bargaining the contract also refused to provide information vital to employees deciding whether to seek a buyout.

At the same time the two parties were bargaining, Publisher George Hearst was meeting in the room next door with a large group of local labor leaders who let the Company know in no uncertain terms that threatening to cancel a contract in the Capital Region would not fly.

A written agreement on a buyout offer was signed. The Guild Bargaining Committee asked what positions the Company will seek to eliminate so members can decide whether to apply for a buyout. The Company claimed it could not specify a single area that could be affected.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Peter Rahbar, a New York City-based lawyer for the Hearst Corp.

Guild bargainers said they found it hard to believe the Company could offer no idea to members what jobs are on the line at a time it is asking people to consider taking buyouts.

The Guild’s bargaining committee also offered a proposal Tuesday to raise employees’ share of health-care costs.

That would mean the employee share of health-insurance costs would rise to 18 percent on Dec. 1, 2009; 20 percent on 12/01/10; 22 percent on 12/01/11; 23 percent on 12/01/12; and 25 percent on 12/01/13.

In return, the union would maintain language in the contract that any plan offered by the Company remain comparable. We also sought language that states our union would pay no more than any other bargaining unit and to lock in the deductible at no more than $750 for the life of the contract.

“We thought that was a pretty generous offer, especially since the Company has proposed no wage increases for three years,” Guild President Tim O’Brien said.

The dates and percentages are the same as in the Teamsters’ contract.

The Company’s response was typical of its behavior throughout these negotiations. Offer ’em a concession, they demand even more.

They proposed employees’ share of health-care costs rise January 1 from 16 to 22 percent share, costing everyone an extra $432 in one year. Costs would rise again to 25 percent in 2011 — a nine percent leap in less than two years while you get no raise.

They’d agree to the comparability language — which is already in our contract and is in other unions’ agreements — but not to freezing the size of the deductible at $750 over the life of the agreement.

The Company also returned to the table with no movement on what it calls the two most vital issues of these negotiations: outsourcing and seniority protections for layoffs. While the Guild has offered movement on both those issues, the Company hasn’t moved on outsourcing and regressed on seniority March 10 by saying it wants to eliminate a rehire list if layoffs occur.

A vote on the buyout offer will be scheduled for Wednesday in the plant, and the Guild is strongly recommending a yes vote. More details will be forthcoming on an exact time for the vote. (We’ll have two shifts, one at lunch time and one in the evening, to catch the maximum number of members.)

The parties were joined at the table Tuesday by James Magnuson, a federal mediator who is trying to help the parties reach an agreement before the April 9 date when the Company has said it will cancel our contract.

The Guild very much appreciates the leaders of so many unions — from NYSUT, the building trades, PEF, the Capital Area Labor Federation and others — for showing their solidarity with us. We’ll have more details on their conversation in a future post.

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