Guild session enlightens membership

Guild members took their lunch hour Thursday to hear from their union leaders about the Company’s offer, and they were stunned to learn all the information publisher George Hearst has been withholding from them.

Members learned that other newspapers where outsourcing language was approved set reasonable limits, specified what jobs would not be outsourced and/or provided enhanced severance for anyone laid off as a result of outsourcing. While the union offered to allow up to 6 percent of its positions to be outsourced (about 13 jobs a year under the current membership totals), the Company did not offer any of the language other newspapers have adopted. Nor has the Company asked any other union in the plant to allow the outsourcing of any and all jobs, a fact Hearst refuses to address in any of his e-mails.

(Some members also complained as they entered the session that Hearst sought to interfere in the union meeting by sending a snotty e-mail moments before it began. They applauded bargaining committee members Tim O’Brien, Mary Fultz, John Demania and Stacy Wood for their bravery and dignity in the face of the Company’s attempts to portray them as anything less than dedicated to strongly representing the union’s members.)

“George Hearst won’t tell you which jobs he would outsource for one simple reason,” O’Brien said. “He knows that if he did, those people would come to the meeting, beg you not to vote to lay them off and outsource their jobs, and there is no way any of you would vote yes. He is hoping that by not connecting names and faces to his proposal, he can get you to approve it.”

He said it was absurd for Hearst to claim the Company had no plans to use the outsourcing language if it got it. “The Company did not cancel our contract, cut off our dues collection and threaten us with impasse so it could get language it has no plans to use,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien  informed members that the union had offered to let 10 percent of those laid off be out of seniority. (If the TU laid off 60 people, it could skip six.) “If George Hearst thought that percentage was too low, he could have countered with a higher number,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien recounted how he recently talked to a driver who was accepting a buyout. The Company was outsourcing his position. It could not lay him off under the current language, but he did not want the clerical position he was offered. Because the employee was not yet 55, O’Brien said, his being forced out would cause his pension to be cut in half.

“Employees who get laid off a little bit shy of 55, after 25 or 30 years of loyalty to the Company, will see their pensions severely reduced,” O’Brien said. “That’s why we fight so hard to preserve some regard for seniority. You won’t read that in any of George Hearst’s e-mails.”

The Guild provided members with a summary of the Company’s proposal, which members agreed was much more thorough than what the Company had provided. The union also gave its members the exact language they are being asked to approve, something else the Times Union did not see fit to share.

Members also heard from Guild leaders and International Representative Tim Schick about what would happen if the members voted the proposal down. Union leaders explained that the Company’s language (as its own lawyer admitted at the last bargaining session) would actually give union leaders more say on outsourcing and layoffs under an impasse than if the Company’s language were approved. For legal reasons, the Company added language that said it would continue to negotiate with the union over the implementation of its layoff and outsourcing language in the event of an impasse.

“There is literally no incentive for the members to approve this offer,” O’Brien said. “If people are to be laid off, the Company’s own lawyer admitted the Guild would have more input under an impasse than if the Company proposal was approved.”

Union leaders  also explained that under an impasse, the Company can only impose language from its last offer. It could not, say, suddenly decide to cut wages or eliminate severance when those proposals were not in their offer.

The Guild distributed a question-and-answer packet that discussed what would happen if the members rejected the Company offer. You can view that here.

Members said afterward they were impressed by the thoroughness of the union’s presentation. After hearing directly about some of the employees who reasonably fear they would be laid off and their work outsourced, many at the meeting said they had changed their minds and would vote to reject the Company’s proposal. Others said they had already decided against approving the proposal and were turned off by the tone and lack of full disclosure in Hearst’s e-mails.

One Comment

  • Cathy Woodruff

    As much as this remains a battle for the jobs and futures of our Guild members, I have come to believe that this also is a battle for the future of the Times Union.

    What is a local newspaper without the connections of its employees to its community? Our readers and advertisers should know that we value their trust in a personal way. We build our reputations here for our professionalism, our journalistic integrity and our concern for delivering a quality product every day to our community — in fact, a product that I dare say is appreciated far beyond our own community, thanks to the Web.

    The local employees who make the Times Union possible every day, year after year, include many whose names don’t regularly appear in print. All help keep our newspaper in a stronger position than others around the country.

    Of course we know the newspaper industry is changing! I’m dumbfounded that the company keeps suggesting that we don’t. But turning a good local product into some cut-rate homogenized shadow of itself isn’t the answer.
    Do local readers really want journalism produced and delivered in large part by contract workers (perhaps in Texas, perhaps elsewhere, perhaps here) without union benefits and protections, and by volunteers and stringers paid by the item?

    I think that by respecting their local workers and the people who have dedicated careers to this newspaper, the Hearst Corp. and the Times Union would make the best possible move to strengthen the newspaper’s prospects for survival as a respected – and profitable – newspaper and Web site.

    We need to keep working to help them realize that. One way is by voting against a bad contract that rejects every reasonable compromise offered by our bargaining team.

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