Negotiations hit ‘Wall’

By: Lucia Moses

Labor pains continue at Dow Jones & Co.

Dow Jones & Co.’s labor problems aren’t over yet. Details of a proposed retirement plan continue to hold up contract negotiations at the company, where employees have been working without a contract since labor negotiators failed to agree on a new three-year contract by an Aug. 31 midnight deadline.
The last contract expired in April and was extended twice, through Aug. 31. With significant progress made, both sides expressed optimism about reaching an agreement soon. The next talks are set for Sept. 9 and Sept. 15.
Dow Jones, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, has been trying to scale back its longstanding profit-sharing plan, which gives employees up to 15% of their annual pay with no required match.
The proposed cutbacks prompted a group of unhappy employees to protest at the company’s annual meeting in April. The Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees (iape), an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America, agreed to an employee match but is holding out for a higher company fixed contribution.
iape represents about 2,400 Dow Jones advertising, editorial, technology operations, clerical, press, mailroom, and maintenance employees, or 45% of the company, excluding the Ottaway Newspapers Inc. division, which is covered by a separate retirement plan.
Dow Jones proposes a fixed company contribution of 7% of an employee’s pay and a dollar-for-dollar match to a 401K account, up to 4% of an employee’s pay.
The company also proposes a new gain-sharing plan that generally would pay employees up to 4% more than their annual pay in years when the company’s earnings go up more than 15% over the previous year. The company says the proposed gain-sharing plan would have paid out cash in seven of the past 18 years.
“We think this plan is creative and generous. It serves the interests of both employees and shareholders,” company president and ceo Peter Kann and executive vice president Peter Skinner say in an Aug. 31 letter to employees.
The union wants a higher fixed contribution of 10.5%, arguing that some employees can’t afford to contribute a matching amount.
“Everything else is nice, but it’s frosting,” says Ron Chen, iape president. “The foundation of all of that good stuff has to be a floor that takes care of all our people.”
Chen says the current profit-sharing plan is offset by lower pay compared with what peer companies offer, and cutting benefits will drive talent elsewhere.
Dow Jones spokesman Richard Tofel says the proposed plan is still as good or better than what competitors offer. “In general, we think our wages are quite competitive, and the surest proof is how few people leave here to make money at our competitors.
For wage increases, Dow Jones is offering 6% over the three-year contract, which it says is consistent with recent newspaper industry settlements. The union is seeking 11%.
Union members got 11%, 12%, and 15.5% raises in the previous three contracts, negotiated in 1996, 1993, and 1990, respectively.
(Editor & Publisher [Caption]
(copyright: Editor & Publisher September 4, 1999) [Caption]

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