‘Chronicle’ Management Gives Union Deadline to Accept ‘Best Offer’

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By: Joe Strupp

Fears of a possible strike or lockout at the San Francisco Chronicle were turned up over the weekend after management gave the union its “best offer” and a deadline of July 25 to accept the deal, according to the guild.

“After months of making slow but steady progress toward a new contract with the Guild, Chronicle management negotiators today declared it was time to abandon that approach,” a notice on the Web site of the Northern California Media Workers Local 39521 stated Friday. The notice added that the paper put forth its best offer and demanded a response by next Monday.

“I’m extremely disappointed the Chronicle decided to take this approach,” Michael Cabanatuan, Guild president, said in a statement on the Web site. “Knowing that the company is sustaining huge losses, we’ve worked with them in a straightforward, cooperative and, frankly, very patient, manner, but they’ve decided to resort to strong-arm tactics. We’re hoping there’s still a chance for reason and a collaborative effort to prevail.”

The guild Web notice claims the union was told that if no agreement is reached by the July 25 deadline, “company negotiators?will replace today’s proposal with one that is even less desirable.”

Guild officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. Calls to publisher Frank Vega were not immediately returned. The guild local represents about 900 Chronicle employees, including more than 400 in the editorial department.

“Management negotiators said that the previous record of huge losses, at times exceeding a million dollars a week, over the past three years had grown even worse in recent weeks,” the guild Web notice added, “to more than two million dollars a week. Company representatives said they had run out of time for extended negotiations.”

Guild leaders acknowledged several months ago that an audit of the paper’s finances conducted by a guild-approved auditor found the paper had lost at leas $62 million last year.

The latest management proposal, according to the guild Web site, includes the following:

* Slashing pay from between one percent and 24.4 percent for about 400 Guild employees, excluding journalists.

* Eliminating one week of vacation, half of the current 10 sick days, and birthday and anniversary holidays.

* Eliminating a popular program that allows parents of infants and toddlers to work part time until their children are in kindergarten.

* Reducing pension benefits, including freezing the lump sum (severance pay) component.

* Requiring assigning editors to become classified as management positions, in which they would lose job protections and overtime pay.

* Prohibiting Guild members from honoring picket lines.

“Many of the company’s proposals — such as eliminating part-time schedules for parents, cutting sick days, or ending the right to take sabbatical leaves — do nothing to improve the company’s ability to make money,” the guild Web statement said.

“I don’t see how these cuts improve their bottom line at all,” Chronicle unit chair Kathleen Rhodes, who campaigned to keep the parental part-time schedules, said in a Web statement. “All they do is make the quality of our members’ lives worse.”

The guild is one of nine employee unions representing Chronicle workers, and one of four whose last contract expired on July 1. The other five have ongoing bargaining agreements that are not up this year.

Of the four seeking new contracts, the San Francisco Web Pressman and Prepress Workers Union local 4, which represents 250 workers, is also at odds with the paper. The National Labor Relations Board recently found that the pressman’s union had violated the law by refusing to negotiate and set a hearing before an administrative law judge for Aug. 3.

Although the guild has been bargaining in good faith, both management and guild officials contend that talks have been difficult, although each has said recently that progress was being made.

“We’re anticipating there will be no labor action,” Chronicle spokeswoman Patty Hoyt said last Friday, before the guild notice was posted. “That we would settle sooner rather than later.”

Still, Chronicle managers have been preparing for a possible job action for weeks, hiring security guards for the main offices and printing plants, as well as formulating a plan for mangers to publish in the case of a job action. “We have contingency plans and we have worked extremely hard on them,” Hoyt said last week. “It is our insurance and we will publish no matter what.”

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