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Year in Review: Guild unites to protect members; leads on remote work policy, COVID-19 safety

Dear fellow Guild colleagues,

As we gear up for our annual membership meeting in September, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with all of you some of the successes the Albany Newspaper Guild has seen in the last year.

It has been, undoubtedly, a trying year for all of us at the Times Union, but the Guild has been working hard to protect you and your fellow colleagues every step of the way. Whether that is ensuring management follows our contract, accompanying employees during disciplinary discussions or negotiating additional workplace protections amid a pandemic, the Guild has remained dedicated to protecting you.

The successes outlined below give you a glimpse into what the Guild has been doing for you over the past year, and hopefully encourages you to become part of the Guild family ahead of our annual membership meeting and vote to fill a board vacancy. Becoming a dues-paying member helps support all the work the Guild does for you and your fellow colleagues AND gives you the ability to vote on Guild matters, including the upcoming election.

We broke down our successes below. Still not convinced? Learn more about how the Guild benefits you!

In solidarity,

Mandy Fries

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Guild works with management to solidify remote work policy

The Guild’s latest effort comes in response to our contact with members across departments, with many expressing concerns over returning to the office and wanting to continue to work from home.

Guild leadership has drafted a remote work policy that will be presented to Publisher George Hearst. George has expressed a willingness to discuss a permanent policy, recognizing that Times Union employees working remotely during the height of the pandemic was successful and employees may be more productive working from home.

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Guild secures buyout extension, reduces planned layoff count

Just as Mandy Fries took the helm as Guild president, the company seeks to lay off eight Guild-represented employees, ignoring a 45-day window for notifying the labor union of planned layoffs. The Guild’s swift action holding the company accountable to our contract secures a buyout extension to July 5.

The company gets two more people to take buyouts in July, reducing the planned number of layoffs to five.

While we hate to see anyone laid off, extending the buyout offer deadline and ensuring the company adhered to our contract allowed employees the proper amount of time to seek a buyout rather than be forced out the door. Making sure we were part of the process and dialogue with management also reduced the number of Guild-represented employees the company ultimately laid off, as well.

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Guild unites membership, secures enhanced buyout for finance office

At first glance, the company’s pursuit to outsource the finance/business office may seem like a huge blow to the Guild – and it was.

But we not only were able to land a generous, enhanced buyout for our colleagues in the finance office, we had overwhelming membership support for it as well. Membership unanimously supported the enhanced buyout, with 70 percent of eligible members voting. That vote in October 2019 represented a 160 percent increase in turnout from the last vote.

That participation was incredible, and it is that support and unity that is crucial for our success then as well as going forward. Through collective action we can make improvements to our workplace, but it will require all of us working together to truly make a difference and make things happen!

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Guild leads on COVID-19 safety discussions

As a more recent example, the Guild has been in constant contact with management about workplace safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

We quickly sprang into action in early March to meet with top executives about how the Times Union would handle local COVID-19 cases and how employees would be protected. Guild leadership has held multiple discussions with management since then, including raising concerns on using accumulated sick time for COVID-19 recovery and challenges with working from home while homeschooling children.

Following these discussions, the Company announced 26 weeks of paid leave for any employee who contracts COVID-19 or must take care of someone who has fallen ill. Management also offered two weeks of paid parental leave that the Guild ensured could be used flexibly.

The Guild also made sure employees who worked at Times Union headquarters or outside the home received the $350 lump sum payments the Times Union provided some employees. The Company’s original payment plan required each department manager to identify who was eligible and neglected many employees who should have received the payment.

We also protected individual members from improper behavior from management, including a manager’s visit to a Guild employee’s home on the employee’s day off.

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Guild protects employees from unreasonable dismissal

When the Company proposed a “clean desk policy” in June it came with the caveat that if you left something on your desk you could be fired.

The Guild quickly pushed back on the policy as written and struck a “common sense” agreement with top management: Keep your desk clean, and if you leave something on it, it’ll be thrown away.

The final policy requires you to keep your desk clean daily, removing everything but computer and telephone equipment from desktop surfaces so cleaning crews can thoroughly clean. If you leave something on your desk, everything will be thrown away, rather than being written up or possibly fired.

The clean desk policy is necessary to combat the potential spread of COVID-19.

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Guild leads on diversity, inclusion, overall workplace improvement discussions

Before the pandemic, the civil unrest and the Hearst Corporation’s sudden dedication to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the Guild led discussions on how the Times Union could be more welcoming and inclusive.

We called on management to provide in-person sexual harassment training and provided options for doing so. We have worked with managers and Guild-represented employees to address workplace harassment, hostility and favoritism. Most recently, we sent a letter to top executives providing recommendations for improving diversity and inclusion at the Times Union.

These discussions and the Guild’s work continue, and we hope the recommendations the Guild has championed will be implemented by the Company.

As always, if you’d like to get more involved in the discussions, have any recommendations or particular issues you’d like to discuss with a Guild representative, do not hesitate to reach out.

Lastly, members of the Guild’s Diversity Committee have taken training to conduct a pay equity study at the Times Union, and are working with international Guild attorneys on drafting a letter to request detailed information from management.

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Other efforts the Guild has made on your behalf include:

  • Alerting management to issues of mold at certain circulation depots.
  • Working with district managers on workplace hazards and issues as well as scheduling problems.
  • Rebuilding the stewards system, which now means each Guild-represented employee has a direct line of contact to the Guild.
  • Improving communication with all of you, including regular updates and monthly newsletters.
  • Bringing the international Guild president Jon Schleuss to the Times Union and connecting him with 40 Guild members as well as a meeting with Publisher George Hearst. In the same vain, we also have a former Times Union employee and past Guild president Melissa Nelson working with our local unit.
  • Negotiating new Guild-represented positions on the Times Union web team.
  • Naming new members to the commission committee to get active representation for advertising.
  • Negotiating an agreement on circulation customer service representatives’ commissions.
  • Improving the working relationship with management and George Hearst.
  • Working with individual Guild members on workplace issues and questions on work performance.

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