By: Joe Strupp
After about 10 months of negotiations, and a final management offer union leaders consider unacceptable, some Dow Jones newsroom workers are already demanding a strike vote, according to a top negotiator.
Jim Browning, head of bargaining for the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, which represents some 2,000 Dow Jones employees, said a strike vote could be called as early as this weekend when the IAPE board meets.
“A lot of people want to have a strike vote,” Browning said. “It is increasingly likely; a lot of people want that to happen.”
He said the mood is sharply different from the last contract talks four years ago, which ended with a four-year deal that included no raise the first year and annual raises of 2.5% to 4 % in the following three years.
“Last time around, people were very reluctant to discuss a strike, that has changed,” Browning said. “Now people, especially younger people, say ‘when are we taking a strike vote?'”
Asked about the ongoing labor situation, a Dow Jones spokeswoman said, “Regarding the Company’s negotiations with the union, we value our employees, both union and non-union, and continue to negotiate in good faith.”
At issue is the final offer from management, which Browning said was put forth last week. The proposal calls for a three-year agreement, with a 3% raise each year, but a sharp increase in health benefit premiums, as much as double the current fee in some cases.
“They are also trying to water down the inflation protection that kicked in last year,” Browning said. The two sides are set to meet again on Wednesday. The union’s last contract expired in January, but talks have been ongoing since November.
“They’ve been bad from the start,” Browning, a 28-year Wall Street Journal reporter, said of the negotiations. “Very acrimonious.”
Looming over the talks, of course, is the pending takeover of Dow Jones by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which reached a $5 billion deal that could be finalized by November.
Browning said Murdoch must honor any agreement struck before the deal closes, but if none is reached the union would have to bargain with his negotiators. “I think they want to show Murdoch that they are tough,” Browning said of current management. “But they have to have a newsroom for him when he comes. It is better to have him arrive to a newsroom where reporters are not threatening to walk out.”
Reporters and other union members are planning to demonstrate today between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Dow Jones headquarters in lower Manhattan. Browning said the demonstration is the first of its kind for the current bargaining sessions.
It follows the recent placing of two protest signs in the Journal newsroom that depict an image of Murdoch and the phrase, “Show Us The Money.” The New York Times reported that the signs had been removed during a recent Murdoch visit, but Browning said they had returned and remain.
“I think both sides would like to reach an agreement,” he said. “The problem Dow Jones has is they don?t want to appear weak. But we don?t want to settle for a lousy contract.”