Mediator To Enter D.C. Contract Talks p. 32

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Guild rejects Washington Post's 'final' offer; stages
informational picketing; both sides optimistic deal can be done sp.

LABOR NEGOTIATIONS ARE rarely easy, and even though the Washington Post and the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild are this close to a contract, talks are stalled ? at least temporarily.
The two sides have reached an agreement on almost every issue, although two main sticking points remain.
One is the date when second- and third-year pay increases would go into effect. The union wants the increase to begin on the July expiration date of the old contract, and the Post wants it to date from the signing of the new contract.
Another issue is the reduction in mileage allowances from 34? to 30?. According to the Post, 30? is the maximum allowed tax-free by the IRS and is the same rate given to all other staffers, including managers. According to the union, the cut is punitive.
After five months of negotiations, the 1,350-member WBNG voted 185-21 to reject the Post's final offer. The WBNG represents employees in the editorial, advertising, data processing, circulation, public relations and art departments.
Representatives from the two sides were slated to meet with a federal mediator Oct. 26, and both were optimistic an agreement could be reached.
About a week after the union vote, the Guild staged an hour of informational picketing outside the Post building in downtown Washington to draw attention to their stalled contract talks.
"We're just letting the company know we're serious," said unit chair Jamie Ward Black, who works in the systems and engineering department.
Wearing Guild buttons with orange ribbons [for respect] and bright green stickers reading, "We're all in this together," between 30 and 40 staffers and supporters from other unions picketed during lunchtime in front of the Post building.
Chants and signs, while varied, carried the basic theme of respect, notably the lack of it the Guild believes the paper is giving the union.
The Post negotiators "wanted a lot of concessions," said chief negotiator Carol Rosenblatt, WBNG administrative officer. "We think we have been very fair in meeting their concerns. When it came to meeting ours, they were not there."
Black concurred, noting that Guild negotiators "made several concessions because we knew they needed flexibility. We thought they would have something to give back, but they didn't."
Rosenblatt called the proposed wage package "very inadequate," charging that the Post "is punishing us for not capitulating quickly enough" and that negotiators have "set a confrontational and hostile tone."
Although the Guild membership voted down the final Post proposal, Rosenblatt said the bargaining is not at an impasse.
"I believe we have the ability to resolve our differences," she said.
Franklin J. Havlicek, Post vice president/industrial relations and environmental services, said he believes that "a mediator with a broad perspective on labor negotiations and wage issues and bargaining will very quickly see that with 32 of 33 issues resolved and a broad wage package on the table, there is reason to resolve."
Havlicek not only believes a contract is reachable, but also that it will be a model for the newspaper industry.
"We had intense negotiations off and on over the past five months," he said. "We really accomplished something that Post employees and the industry are going to find very constructive ? and this industry has got lots of difficulties.
"We have negotiated what I think will be a model contract in the industry," Havlicek said. "We've sorted out lots of very difficult problems that exist at other papers at a time when the industry is in transition."
As far as the first-year wage increase, there would be a lump-sum payment of $2,000 to every full-time Guild employee, Havlicek explained, noting that some part-timers would get the same amount and others less, depending on the number of hours they work.
The Post offered to give staffers the money in the form of a 401(k) payment, which is tax deferred. Each Guild-covered employee could choose to take all or a percentage of the money, and the paper would match 4%, as it does for the plan generally.
In the second and third years of the contract, the increase would be $25 a week, although the two sides cannot agree when that would go into effect.
Havlicek said management believes "these folks are professionals who are very fairly and reasonably compensated" and to call the paper's proposal "punitive and insulting, the only thing I can say is I think it's irrational and terribly unrealistic, given the circumstances the Post and other newspapers are looking at over the next three years."
Havlicek said reducing the auto mileage by 4? was not punitive, as the Guild has charged.
"The reason we proposed that is that everyone else at the Post gets thirty cents," he said. "Thirty cents is the maximum allowed tax-free by the IRS. The difference is four taxable cents per mile. Thirty is what [publisher] Don Graham gets, thirty is what the electricians get and everyone else in the building."
If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, "we're seeing the possibility of unilateral implementation," Havlicek said, adding that "the Post doesn't want to do that. It wants to reach an agreement."
However, if the Guild refuses to meet, Havlicek said the Post will file charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
"We would rather take the Guild to the NLRB than implement [the contract] unilaterally," he said. "But at some point, the Post will have to make a decision about what to do about the impasse. We want to be patient and meet and get an agreement, if at all possible."
"We have negotiated what I think will be a model contract in the industry," Havlicek said. "We've sorted out lots of very difficult problems that exist at other papers at a time when the industry is in transition."


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