'Sun' Offers Guild Contract -- But Must Vote By Thursday Night

By: Joe Strupp The Sun of Baltimore has offered Newspaper Guild employees a new four-year contract that includes three years of raises and a $1,000 bonus. But most of the salary increases are tied to performance, a stipulation that has irked some guild members.

In addition, rank-and-file members must ratify the offer by midnight Thursday or it will be rescinded and bargaining will have to begin all over again. "They said that this is off the table if it is not agreed upon by midnight Thursday," said Michael Hill, guild negotiator. "We expect to make changes and continue to negotiate."

The proposal comes less than two weeks before the current four-year agreement is set to expire on June 24. That deal was forged after a bitter labor dispute in 2003 that included the preparation of replacement workers and a vote that occurred just hours before a planned strike.

The recent negotiations have taken a much calmer tone, according to both sides. Union and management leaders believe a new deal can be reached before the expiration date, even if the current proposal is not accepted.

"It is an offer we hope can bring a timely resolution to negotiations," said Linda Yurche, a Sun spokeswoman, who called it a "contingent, comprehensive offer."

The proposal is a four-year agreement that includes a $1,000 bonus the first year, a $10-per-week automatic raise in the second and third years, and no automatic raises the fourth year. But it also includes a schedule of merit raises from a pool that would be created based on $12 per member in the second year, $15 per member the third year, and $25 per member the fourth year.

The merit pay pool would be distributed based on performance evaluations of each guild member, Yurche said. She said a similar provision already exists in the current agreement.

Hill opposed the fourth-year provision that includes no automatic raises, but has the largest merit pay pool. "That is unacceptable to us and we would not sign that agreement," he said.

The latest proposal comes at a time when Tribune Co., the Sun's parent owner, is in the process of being sold to a Chicago-based billionaire. The paper is losing 45 staffers across all departments due to a mix of 41 buyouts and four layoffs.

The guild is also objecting to a proposal to eliminate a clause that bars reporters from taking photos, Hill said. "We need to make sure this is not designed to undermine our photo staff," he said. "We need some protection in there for our photo staff and reporters."

But Hill stressed that union leaders want to forge a new deal as quickly as possible. "It is something we would like to do," he said. "To have an early contract and avoid the damage we had four years ago."


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