AFTER SEVEN MONTHS of negotiations, the Washington Post and the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild have signed a new three-year contract.
The two sides were close to an agreement a few weeks ago, but were deadlocked over when second- and third-year pay raises would go into effect and how much money the company would allow for mileage reimbursement (E&P, Oct. 28, p. 32).
A federal mediator was called in during the final weeks, and although helpful, she was not present when the final agreement was reached.
The agreement, which was approved 101-14 by Guild membership, calls for wage increases to be divided, with half ($10.50) received in May and the other half in November for both 1996 and 1997.
The company had wanted the raises to date to the contract signing, and the WBNG wanted them to begin in July, when the last contract expired.
The earlier payout, the union estimated, will mean an average of an additional $702 per employee.
First-year wage increases for staffers working 30 hours a week or more will be paid in a lump sum of $2,000, which can be put into the Post's 401(k) program. Guild-covered employees who work less than 30 hours per week will receive $1,600 in the first year, and part-timers who work at least 30 hours a week will get full-time health benefits.
In addition, the contract boosts the company's matching contribution to the savings plan from 4% to 4.5%.
The Guild and the Post agreed to keep the mileage reimbursement at 34?, until the IRS catches up, at which point it will keep pace with the federal allowance.
The Post had sought to reduce the mileage reimbursement to 30?, which is the maximum currently allowed by the IRS.
"This was a really gruesome experience for the entire bargaining team," WBNG administrative officer Carol Rosenblatt said of the seven months of negotiations. "We are glad that the process is over.
"We feel that we were able to improve upon what was offered on September 29th [when the Post made its final offer]," she said. "There's no question we wish that some of the contractual changes were not there, but we feel that we did the best that we could. Our goal was to protect the members, and we did, and we improved some things, as well."
Despite the changes from the Post's Sept. 29 offer, Rosenblatt explained that the negotiating team "had to decide whether hanging out there longer would produce further changes. The feeling of the negotiating team, and they did recommend the contract, was that it was up to the members."
Although only 115 of the 1,350 Guild-covered staffers voted, Rosenblatt said "the majority of the membership felt that since the negotiating team recommended it, it was pretty much a finished product."
A parallel issue, separate from the contract but negotiated during the last few sessions, is the Post's buyout plan for staffers in the advertising and accounting departments.
The buyout offer is available to some 150 Post employees, who can choose to retire early, resign or switch to part-time status.
"I think they expect there will be some people who take this," Rosenblatt said, noting that the new contract includes enhanced early retirement provisions.
Post vice president/industrial relations and environmental services Franklin J. Havlicek called the process "one of the most intense negotiations the Post has experienced."
"The result is an agreement that will certainly create a very new work environment for all Guild-represented employees at the Post for many years," he said.
Among the changes creating that new environment, Havlicek explained, are provisions excluding 90 positions, including 55 newsroom editors, from the agreement; allowing work assignments to be shifted across departmental and union jurisdictional lines without restriction; and allowing the Post to change an employee's duties at a time of re-engineering in the industry without being bound by contractual salary classifications.
In addition, clauses regarding fees for reuse or republication were eliminated, and the Post's online service, Digital Ink, was excluded from the contract.
"There are, literally, two dozen provisions providing for increased operational flexibility and managerial discretion, most of which are not subject to the arbitration procedure," Havlicek said.
"What we tried to do here is to create a kind of post-industrial labor contract, where the old industrial labor union model has been brought up to date in sweeping fashion," he explained.
"In fact, sweeping change is what the Guild characterized this contract as representing," Havlicek noted, adding that there was "no significant part of the contract that was not renegotiated or rewritten."
The Post-Guild contract had not been rewritten since the 1930s, with the exception of some provisions negotiated in 1989, Havlicek explained.
"Part of the problem with an old contract, especially at newspapers, is its like strands of a fabric," he said. "You can't pull one thread out without affecting the overall pattern of the contract. What we had to do was reweave the entire agreement."
"What we tried to do here is to create a kind of post-industrial labor contract, where the old
industrial labor union model has been brought up to date in sweeping fashion," he explained.
By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Guild signs new contract after seven months of negotiations sp.