Company aims for impasse rather than bargaining

Rather than negotiate a fair contract with its employees, the Times Union is trying to position itself to claim the parties are at an impasse so  it can impose the elimination of seniority rules for layoffs and start outsourcing jobs.

In George Hearst’s latest e-mail to employees, note he said the Company is dedicated to reaching “an expedient resolution.” Not a good resolution or a fair resolution, but an expedient one.

In the letter to Guild President Tim O’Brien, you’ll notice a much more negative tone and a claim the parties appear to be at impasse.

The parties are not at or near an impasse. There are plenty of issues left on the table for us to discuss, from an increase in the pension fund contribution to commissions to upgrades. Hearst himself lists a half dozen issues.

In addition, numerous questions have arisen over the Company’s proposals on the two issues it has described as core ones for these negotiations. Their proposals have been altered as of the last round of sessions, and we need to carefully review the latest version of their proposals and how they would affect our members.

“We have never said we will not reach an agreement on any of the issues on the table,” O’Brien said. “But we have an obligation to represent our members to the fullest and to make sure we understand what every word in a proposal means. Once you reach an agreement, you are bound by those words and cannot later claim, ‘Well, we really didn’t know what that meant.’ When the language is about outsourcing and seniority for layoffs, it is very important that every word in an agreement be carefully considered.”

If the Company attempts to claim we are at impasse, we will immediately file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board because it is demonstrably untrue. If the Company then says it will lay off people outside of seniority, we will immediately file a second board charge and seek an injunction.

Yes, we have been bargaining for nine months. The prior contract took two years to negotiate. Other unions in the plant have recently taken 15 months to negotiate. The amount of time spent bargaining is not an indication of impasse. And in fact, the Company did not really start bargaining in earnest until it issued the notice it would cancel the contract, a little more than a month ago.

And note what else George says in his memo: He wants to meet daily, but he has no intention of moving. In a sentence, that sums up the Company’s whole cynical game: Blast the union for not meeting daily, but refuse to bargain if we do.

You’ll hear George complain a lot about not meeting as often as he would like. What George doesn’t acknowledge is he was told that if he canceled the contract, it would temporarly cut our revenues and we would have to cut back on time spent on union leave. Knowing this, he canceled the contract anyway.

And, frankly, those of us on the Bargaining Committee want to spend some of our time doing our day jobs. The Company already targeted one of our committee members and tried to argue she had to hit the same advertising sales goals even if she was spending “every day” in bargaining as George wants. So that’s the Company’s position: Let’s meet every day, and let’s then say you’re a slouch at work.

Sure, the Company can meet every day. It has two out-of-town corporate lawyers on the payroll it can summon at short notice. The Guild’s expert advice comes from International representatives who work for many locals at a time, and we can’t simply order them to come to Albany the next day. At this stage, we will not bargain without an expert with us for every session, just as George would not bargain without his lawyer present.

“We know the Company wants to implement layoffs soon. It can do so under the current language,” O’Brien said. “Just because the Company wishes it had different language now does not mean it can force an impasse to get what it wants. The Times Union needs to continue to bargain in good faith until all the issues at the table are resolved and final language is agreed upon. While we certainly would like an agreement sooner than later, our first task is to get a fair agreement for our members that is carefully and wisely considered, not just expedient.”


  • Newsroom

    Thanks for addressing this. I noticed he used the word “impasse” in his latest letter, too.

    What I’m wondering is this: Can the company say “We’re at an impasse” and start laying off people as it pleases? Another employee mentioned that at a previous paper, the company did this. The union filed a complaint after the fact, but workers were sent out the door regardless. I’m just wondering if we should be expecting this to happen sooner rather than later (like as soon as next week).

    And what would happen to those employees while the NLRB makes a decision?

    Thanks for keeping us posted.

    • albanyguild

      Newsroom: If the Company claimed we are at an impasse and began laying people off outside seniority, we would do as we said in the bulletin: We would file an unfair labor practice charge for the illegal claiming of an impasse and a second one over the improper layoffs. We also would seek an injunction through the NLRB to stop people from being laid off.

      If we obtain an injunction, the Company could not implement the layoffs and people would stay at work. We expect the Company would then try to lift the injunction. It becomes a monumental legal battle. It plays with people’s lives. In the end, we believe the Company would pay a heavy price for acting unilaterally and illegally.

      It also would be a horrible mistake from a public relations point of view for the Company. Declare an impasse and lay off veteran employees and start to outsource work? At a time when every subscription and ad dollar is precious, the Company would lose out in a big way. The public is already disgusted with the Times Union’s behavior. Public officials are speaking out. Union leaders are strongly in support of us.

      So what does the Guild do? While we try to convince the Company this would be a wrongheaded and ultimately disastrous act, we also are implementing a very detailed plan for letting the public know what is happening and getting their support. We didn’t tell everyone to just cancel their papers. But we are distributing cards to people that give us the power to cancel their subscriptions. (You do it this way so you know how many people have canceled and so you are able to swiftly inform them that a contract is settled so they can resume.)

      Every day we are getting calls from people, some of them retired Times Union folks, asking us how they can help. We are now giving them assigned tasks. We are gearing up for a public-relations battle of the first order. (We’ve got some experience in this regard, you know.) And we are continuing to come to the table willing to move. We hope the Company is wise enough to realize it should do the same.

  • Cathy Woodruff

    Thank you, so much, for this comprehensive and clear response. Mr. Hearst’s decision to continue sending out those negative Friday afternoon e-mails to employees is just plain mean, and this prompt effort by the Guild to explain the situation accurately is important.

    Sadly, my confidence in the company’s sincerity is about gone at this point — thanks, in part, to the content of those Friday 5 p.m. e-mails. It’s pretty clear that the company’s main effort has been focused on finding ways to turn us against one another, rather than reaching an agreement.

    I live in hope that this can change and that it will change with a more positive attitude when the parties return to the table. Best wishes for productive talks.

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