UPDATE: Nine Philly Unions Agree — But Guild Reaches Impasse

By: Joe Strupp

On a day when contract agreements were reached with nine unions at two Phildadelphia daily papers, the Newspaper Guild found itself at an impasse with management over a pension issue and the lack of a wage proposal.

After negotiations broke off after 6 p.m., the guild issue the following bulletin to members:

“Today, the Company refused to move on its plan to freeze the pension fund. It wouldn?t budge on its desire to take full control of our fund away from the joint board of trustees. The Company wants all that power as it, and it alone, seeks a multi-employer plan in which to place the frozen fund.

“The Guild negotiating team told the Company it would go into a multi-employer pension fund, but it would not relinquish its place in the decision making process. Under the Guild plan, the pension trustees ? composed of an equal number of representatives from the Company and the union ? would seek a suitable multi-employer pension fund to merge into. If the sides could not agree on a fund, they would go into arbitration.

“It is essential for both sides to be involved, to keep the process moving quickly and to protect OUR RETIREMENT SAVINGS. ‘This is a damn sad situation,’ said Guild President Henry J. Holcomb. ‘The Company?s position threatens to undo all of the good work we have done and put us on strike.’

“The Company also refused to make a wage proposal, even though it settled with the other unions last night.
With that information, the Guild could possibly craft a solution to the Company?s problem.

“Because this is the most serious of our strike issues, members should please take home their personal items from work and await instructions on other actions.”

Earlier today, E&P reported the following.

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Today’s bargaining session between the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia and the city’s two major papers may be the most significant since the union’s contract expired a week ago and the first threats of a strike arose.

But union leaders at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News now appear to be focused on continuing negotiations that have so far resolved a major dispute over seniority rules, while keeping the potential strike on the back burner as a last resort.

“I actually don’t like to talk about it while there is progress,” guild spokesman Stu Bykofsky said of the strike possibility. “The other side knows it is there, but we go into this today optimistic because we are coming off of a success with seniority.”

Bykofsky, a Daily News staffer, was referring to two lengthy bargaining sessions over the weekend that resulted in an agreement on seniority rules that currently give veteran employees more power to keep their jobs than newer workers. Neither side has revealed what the agreement includes, but it has allowed the talks to move on to a dispute over the paper’s pension fund.

Philadelphia Newspaper Holdings, which owns both papers, has sought to cap the pension fund as part of an effort to curb costs at the financially-strapped dailies. Bykofsky said the paper’s pension contributions currently equal about 6% of each employee’s salary.

Both sides were set to meet at noon today after not negotiating for two days, with the pension issue the major subject. “Today is kind of a pivotal day,” Bykofsky said. “Frankly, I hope they are there until two o’clock in the morning because that seems to be what it takes to get progress.”

The negotiations have not even reached the issue of wages and salaries. Bykofsky declined to say what level of raises the union would be seeking, or if it would accept no raises or a salary cut. “I won’t comment on that because I am not a negotiator.” Publisher Brian Tierney has said he needs to cut as many as 150 jobs at the papers to close a budget gap.

The guild is one of 10 unions at the two papers negotiating for new contracts, but the only one that has voted to authorize a strike. Last week, when the guild set a midnight deadline on Nov. 30 for a possible walkout, the remaining unions, under the umbrella of the Philadelphia Council of Newspaper Unions, agreed to extend their contracts until at least Dec. 9.

The guild, which represents about 900 employees, is the largest bargaining unit of the two papers. Its last contract ended in August, but had been extended twice until Nov. 30.

Bykofksy said the union has been firm about not wanting another extension, but is willing to put off a strike if talks continue to progress. Still, he warned that problems in today’s negotiations could spark new strike possibilities.

“It could definitely break things,” Bykofsky said of today’s session. “With the pension you are screwing around with people’s future security.”

UPDATE FROM AP at 6:00 PM ET:

Nine unions at The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News have reached tentative agreements on their contracts, leaving only the 900-member Newspaper Guild to work out a deal.

Joe Inemer, vice president of the Philadelphia Council of Newspaper Unions, said each of the unions will ask members to vote to ratify their contracts over the next week and a half.

The council, which represents 1,100 employees in nine unions at Philadelphia’s two largest newspapers, agreed to terms on economic issues with owner Philadelphia Media Holdings on Tuesday night. They had reached an accord on non-economic matters in prior weeks.

As of late Wednesday, The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia remains in negotiations with management, principally over management’s proposal to end previous funding for the pension.

Jay Devine, spokesman for Philadelphia Media Holdings, said management will wait until it gets a better sense of savings it could negotiate from the Guild before deciding on a final number of layoffs.

Department heads had been told that as many as 150 jobs could be cut from the Inquirer newsroom, about a third of the staff.

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