In an effort to move contract negotiations forward, the Guild made a major proposal Tuesday that would allow the Company to lay off a limited number of people outside seniority. Employees who lost their jobs as a result would get enhanced severance pay and benefits.
The Guild proposed that the Company could “skip” people with demonstrable exceptional skills or ability. The Company would have to provide evidence of such skills or ability, and the union would have the right to file a grievance. All employees must have been offered equal access to any special skills training.
The number of employees who could be skipped would be limited to no more than 10 percent of those laid off and no more than two people in a job classification.
If the Company laid off 70 people, as it has threatened to do, that means it could “skip” seven employees.
Those who get laid off outside of seniority would be entitled to one week of additional severance for every four months, or majority thereof, they’ve worked at the Times Union. Essentially, that means a person would get three weeks of severance pay for every year of service. The Guild also proposed that employees so laid off would get 18 months of health-care coverage.
If a person was within 18 months of retirement, the Company would also give them full credit (and make the appropriate contribution to the pension fund) so they could retire when they reached retirement age.
“No one should be laid off a few months’ shy of retirement age and lose the benefit they worked so long, hard and loyally to achieve,” Guild President Tim O’Brien said.
While the decision to weaken seniority protections was difficult and might upset some of the Guild’s members, O’Brien said the union is trying to balance the Company’s stated need for flexibility with the union members’ desire for some level of job protection.
O’Brien said it would be unfair to allow the Company to lay off the most senior employee in a department while keeping a person with limited experience here who might be looking to move on soon. He cited specific examples in editorial: It would be inappropriate to put Carol DeMare, a reporter with more than three decades of experience, at risk of a layoff while “skipping” an employee like Marc Parry, an excellent reporter who just left the newspaper (and we’re proud of him) to take a job at the Chronicle of Higher Education he’d actively been pursuing for months.
“Our proposal would give the Company a fair chance to save some people with special skills, while not putting our most senior employees, the people who would find it hardest to get a new job, at risk,” O’Brien said.
The Company still wanted a blank check to lay off anyone no matter how long or loyal their service. Those who lost a job outside seniority would get three weeks’ pay per year of service and health insurance for the same number of weeks as the dismissal pay. The Company would cap both at a maximum of 52 weeks.
The Company also proposed to eliminate the current language that requires laid-off employees to be placed on a rehiring list. Instead, the Company proposes to create a rehiring list for one year that would not require management to rehire anybody.
O’Brien called the proposal a “RINO” — Rehiring in Name Only.
The negotiations are set to resume at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Executive Conference Room. Members are free to attend on their own time.