Guild in Philly Easily Ratifies Contract — With Major Qualms

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By: E&P Staff and The Associated Press

A new three-year contract was ratified by Newspaper Guild members at the two Philadelphia dailies by a 498-69 vote today. The vote was announced after 9 p.m., two hours after the meeting started at 7 p.m.

However, the members, after some debate, also passed a resolution which said, among other strong statements, “Because of their tight-fisted, slash-and-burn, anti-labor tactics, we have NO CONFIDENCE in the new owners? actual desire to publish great newspapers.”

The guild’s bulletin on the voting follows.
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At the start of the meeting, Diane Mastrull, chair of the Inquirer-Daily News unit, with some 900-plus members, recommended members accept the ?unanimous vote of the bargaining committee? for approval.

There were some 200 members present at the peak of the meeting, held in Congregation Rodeph Shalom Synagogue on North Broad Street. Some 275 members, who were unable to attend the meeting, voted by absentee ballot.

Speaking about the contract, Mastrull said, ?it could have been far worse.?

After her recommendation the floor was open for comments and questions. Thirteen members spoke, a majority of them having questions about pension provisions in the contract. Only one speaker directly urged rejection of the contract.

After the questions subsided and a motion was approved to start the vote, another motion was presented, and approved after some debate.

That motion ?instructs the (Guild) Executive Board to discuss – and pass — a resolution saying the following:

1– Because of their tight-fisted, slash-and-burn, anti-labor tactics, we have NO CONFIDENCE in the new owners? actual desire to publish great newspapers.

2– Because of the new owners? recent record of poor business decisions, which includes hiring executives while promising layoffs of union workers, we have NO FAITH in their desire to treat employees with fairness and dignity.

3– Because of the yawning chasm between what the new owners promised and what they now are delivering, we have NO STOMACH to hear any more of their cheerful prattle.

For the new owners we have ?No Confidence, No Faith, No Stomach.?

Excerpts from the Associated Press account follow.

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The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents more than 900 editorial, advertising, circulation and clerical employees at The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, was the last of 10 unions to ratify a new contract.

The Guild reached a tentative agreement with owner Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC last week, averting a strike that would have been the first work stoppage in 21 years at the newspapers.

”While this process was at times difficult, we all share the same goal — to continue delivering exceptionally high quality news and information,” said Brian Tierney, chief executive of Philadelphia Media Holdings, in a statement. ”It was that goal that allowed us to reach these agreements.”

But union leaders and members were unhappy about some contract terms, including changes in sick day benefits, the role of seniority during layoffs, and pension contributions.

Earlier on Monday, Guild President Henry Holcomb expressed a sense of betrayal about the new owners, who bought the papers in June and promised investments in the business instead of cutbacks.

”The new owners promised a new era of cooperation with workers and rebuilding. Then they abruptly changed course,” Holcomb said. ”They demanded cuts that will hurt our members and our newspapers.”

The company, meanwhile, has indicated that layoffs are certain as it aims to save at least $20 million. Jay Devine, a spokesman for Philadelphia Media Holdings, said the company has not set a date for an announcement.

Department heads were told that as many as 150 in the Inquirer newsroom could be let go, but recent talk has the number closer to 80.

The contract, which extends until Aug. 31, 2009, includes no pay increase in the first year. Employees will get a $1,500 bonus, paid in two parts, in the second year, and receive a $25 per week raise in the final year of the contract. But some or all of the funds could be used by the Guild to pay for members’ health care benefits.

The Guild said the papers’ annual profit was $50 million and the new owners have a yearly loan payment of at least $35 million. That doesn’t give management much room to maneuver, but union officials said workers were being penalized for the owners overpaying for the papers.

In contract talks, the two stickiest issues were the pension and seniority.

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