Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Guild Proposal Hits Brick Wall; Times Negotiators Deride Move

Contract negotiations ground to a temporary halt today, as New York Times management, with poorly disguised contempt, dismissed a counteroffer made by the Guild. In a world-turned-upside-down moment, management characterized its small, grudging and insufficient proposals of last week as “significant movement,” and suggested that we should keep bargaining against ourselves on salary and benefits.


An example? The Guild agreed today to reduce its first year wage demand from 4 percent to 3.5 percent, a concession valued at approximately half a million dollars. And what is management’s current first-year wage offer now that we’re 20 months into negotiations? Zero, 0, nada.
The Guild also moved on its proposal for a bonus plan, including cutting its maximum potential payout in half, far below the management maximum. Management negotiators derided this as unrealistic in the extreme. Bernie Plum, the Times’s outside lawyer (his law firm, Proskauer, represents the NFL against game officials, and we’ve seen how well that’s turned out), suggested we waive collective bargaining rights if we want to enjoy the financial benefits of managers. The Guild offered movement too on freelance fees; management said nothing, which, given the tenor of their comments, probably was just as well.
From beginning to end – the planned four-hour session lasted about a half-hour – management’s team did its best to look and sound mightily annoyed at our “lack of movement.” It is important to keep in mind, though, that however tightly Bernie Plum and Vice President for Labor Relations Terry Hayes hold to this fantasy, Guild members know better. For months we have taken the role of adults. We agreed to change our existing pension, perhaps our most valuable benefit, and put a sophisticated proposal on the table that saves the company millions of dollars in future costs. We have made $5.5 million worth of concessions, including on the company’s health care contributions, and now on salary, and yes, even on pension contributions. We embraced one unified contract for the newsroom and for digital, and we’ve made many compromises to get there. Despite all this, and after Guild negotiators had just moved further in his direction, Plum responded: “You’re not going to see further big movement on our part at this time.”
We, of course, want to engage in further constructive negotiations, at any hour on any day. But to continue to reduce, say, our wage demand, even as management insists on keeping a big, fat zero on the table, is a mug’s game.
As to management’s pension proposal, please keep in mind that The New York Times now pays about 10 percent of payroll (a little more than $10 million) into our pension to fund its ongoing obligations. They want to reduce that payment to 5 percent, and they pretended that even that was a great concession. As Guild President Bill O’Meara said in response, “It’s like asking us to cut our wages in half.”
The bottom line? Management’s current proposal would render immediately insolvent our existing pension plan, our proposed plan and more or less any plan we could devise.
The Guild remains ready, willing and able to negotiate. The key word is negotiate, not surrender. We will assume for now that management’s ill temper will pass. But we advise members, strongly, that only our concerted efforts and actions will make clear to The New York Times owner and management just how painfully far short their current proposal falls.
The next scheduled negotiating session is set for Thursday at 10 a.m.
# # # # #

The New York Times Union Contemplates a Collective Chant in the Lobby — or a Public Demo

By Cynthia Cotts
 Photos added by Broadcast Union News

Just before noon on Sept. 24, a stream of about 200 New York Times staffers left the company’s headquarters at 620 Eighth Avenue, heading for the local hotel workers union a few blocks north. A meeting was set for noon to inform Times union members about the status of ongoing contract negotiations and to send a message to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. 

Those attending the meeting ranged in age from twenty-somethings to sexagenarians and in profession from journalist to operations to ad sales. Bold-faced names included reporters Michael Barbaro, Steven Greenhouse and Richard Pérez-Peña, not to mention columnist Clyde Haberman, who has worked for the Times since 1977. The meeting was called by the Newspaper Guild of New York, which represents the Times union.

“The Times has started to move a little bit,” guild president Bill O’Meara told the crowded room. “They need to move more.”

Bernie Plum
The union’s last contract expired in March 2011, and negotiations have dragged out a year and a half, led by Mr. O’Meara and Bernard Plum, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose who represents management. But now “the clock is ticking,” as Mr. Plum likes to say, and management has threatened to declare an impasse if a new contract is not in place by mid-November.

Problem is, management’s current proposal is only slightly more generous than the first one it put on the table, and union leaders don’t feel it’s enough. In an email last Thursday, the union’s mobilizing committee informed its members: “It’s time to get worried. It’s time to get organized. It’s time to fight back.”

To be sure, not every Times staffer belongs to the union, and not everyone is jonesing for a strike. As of last Friday, the mood in the newsroom was “dispirited,” one union member told The Observer. About 20 reporters had attended a negotiating meeting last week and heard for themselves the aggressive tone used by Mr. Plum.

Mr. Plum, who had previously threatened to replace the union pension with a 401K, has made minor concessions of late, such as agreeing to the union’s “adjustable pension plan.” At a negotiating meeting on Sept. 20, he eased up for the first time — offering about $7.5 million more overall, a move the union found promising, but still “not enough,” according to union statements. The two parties remain about $10 million apart in their offers, a guild official told union members at the Sept. 24 meeting.

“The Guild is pleased that the Times has finally made some movement in our direction,” Mr. O’Meara told The Observer in an interview last week, “and we hope we can build on it to get to a contract settlement that our members will find acceptable.”

Mr. Plum did not respond to a request for comment on the status of negotiations.

For all the talk of mobilization, as of last week, many employees were ready to accept the company’s current terms, including some of the web designers, who tend to be young and expect to change jobs in the future. Given the ambivalence, union members in favor of resistance decided to take it step by step. The first step was persuading 200 people to leave Times headquarters to attend the Sept. 24 mobilization meetings. (A second took place at 1:30.)

“If you only ever attend one guild meeting, make it one of these,” union organizers told colleagues last week.

At the first meeting, Mr. O’Meara asked the rank and file to stage collective “actions” to help the union put pressure on management.

“We are not planning a strike,” he said. “A strike is a nuclear weapon. It’s mutually assured destruction.” Instead, in the coming days, the mobilizing committee will call on the newsroom to act in concert, he explained, because “actions that germinate in the newsroom have the most impact.”

“silent corridor” demonstration of February 2012
He recalled the “silent corridor” demonstration of February 2012, when Times staffers lined the hallway outside a Page One meeting as the editors filed in. The initial trigger for the demonstration was management’s proposal to take away the pensions for staffers in the Times’ foreign bureaus, but the message had evolved into a broader defense of the union’s pension.

As examples of what’s coming next, Mr. O’Meara proposed launching a collective chant in the lobby, staging a public demonstration outside the building or setting up the inflatable rat — to which one man in the audience replied, “We want the rat!” Mr. O’Meara emphasized the need for solidarity.

As a second step, Mr. O’Meara asked all union members to sign a letter which was posted on the union’s Times web site today. Addressed to Mr. Sulzberger, executive editor Jill Abramson and incoming CEO Mark Thompson, the letter declares the company’s current contract demands “untenable and destructive” and asks the troika to “end the era of shriveling compensation.”

Recalling that the staff took a 5 percent pay cut in 2009 and that overtime pay has fallen by half since 2008, the letter argues that the staff has already given its fair share to produce ever more quality journalism for the company’s multi-media platforms.

“The news report in The New York Times, online and in print, is richer and more rewarding than ever,” according to the letter, which has no byline. “We are doing more, but making less.”

Finally, Mr. O’Meara invited union members to attend the next negotiating meeting, which is set for Sept. 25 at 10 a.m. He noted that when observers from the newsroom are present, management negotiators speak more respectfully.

In the Q&A session that followed, several staffers echoed O’Meara’s call for solidarity.

“None of this works unless everybody’s on board,” said Mr. Pérez-Peña.

“Members have to stand up and push to get what we deserve,” said Mr. Greenhouse, who covers labor.

And then they went back to work.

New York Times Staffers Consider Demonstrating Over Contract, Say They 'Will Accept Nothing Less'

The Huffington Post

The situation at the New York Times is "at the threshold of crisis" over contract negotiations, according to staffers who told the paper's management that they "will accept nothing less" than their demands.

The New York Observer reported that about 200 staffers met Monday to discuss how to respond to the stalemate in negotiations. Bill O’Meara, president of the Newspaper Guild of New York, said that the paper's management has made some concessions but that they are not enough, and asked the crowd to mobilize.

The actions he proposed included chanting in the lobby, demonstrating outside the building or setting up the inflatable rat outside. O'Meara was clear, however, that they "are not planning a strike," which he called "a nuclear weapon." Several staffers at the meeting, according to the Observer, spoke out in support of his call for collective action.

Union members have been working without a contract for eighteen months now, and the negotiations — which have been marked by silent protests and videos featuring angry journalists — have gotten increasingly tumultuous. There has been some movement in the dealings, but the biggest sticking point remains the New York Times' call to cut employee pensions.

On Monday, staffers also signed a letter to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., executive editor Jill Abramson and incoming CEO Mark Thompson — at least the second addressed to management during the negotiations — suggesting that they are near a tipping point.

24 September 2012

Dear Arthur, Jill and Mark,

Eighteen months after our contracts expired, we stand at the threshold of crisis. Our duty to the institution and to you is to speak plainly.  The company’s demands are untenable and destructive.
Last week, Times negotiators once again insisted on major cuts to our wages and benefits. These demands differ only in degree from earlier ones, with an ugly new twist. They come with a threat of impasse.

We implore you: do not permit The New York Times to be steered any closer to this abyss. This penny-wise path will leave us and the company worse off,  eroding the quality of our journalism now and in the future. The clock is ticking, as Bernie Plum has said. Indeed it is. We already see talented colleagues regularly being hired away because they can no longer afford to work here.

In March, the company’s chief labor executive, Terry Hayes, wrote: 

“And the most important thing we can do is to eliminate the expense, risk and volatility of the defined-benefit pension plans.” 

In response, the Guild proposed a new kind of plan that virtually eliminated volatility and risk to the company. Indeed, the risk was shifted to us, along with shrunken benefits.  The company has accepted this zero-risk, zero-volatility plan, but stunningly, now demands severe cuts in retirement contributions.

We have been asked for work rule revisions, job description reform, a single contract to cover print and digital employees. In almost every case, the Guild agreed. We believe our written agreement should catch up with the agile, enterprising spirit of the newsroom where, for instance, most meaningful distinctions between print and digital journalists have already been erased.

Still, the Times demands cuts to our compensation and threatens impasse.

Over the last eight years, while company revenues were declining, the cost of wages and benefits dropped even faster. In 2009, Arthur asked us to accept a 5% pay cut. We said yes, by a vote of 427 to 36.  Overtime is down by half since 2008.  Yet the news report in The New York Times, online and in print, is richer and more rewarding than ever.

We are doing more but making less.

For us, the most important thing is that you end the era of shriveling compensation. We urge you: step back from this corrosive, needless crisis.  Consider the relief that The Times has already won in these talks. Reflect on the revelations of this past decade. It wasn’t luck or brand legacy that allowed this great institution to make the transition to a digital era during an economic collapse. It was the people of The Times, working seven days a week, around the clock.

This generation of Times journalists has more than earned fair wages and benefits. The next generation expects them. You will need that generation every bit as much as you needed – and need – this one.
We will accept nothing less.

Through two wars, multi-nation revolutions, mass political polarization, and global economic turmoil, we all, managers and employees, have rallied to provide the world’s premier news coverage, and to persevere and succeed in business.

Terry Hayes told us what your “most important thing” is. We believed you. Now we have told you what ours is.

Believe us.

"This generation of Times journalists has more than earned fair wages and benefits," the letter reads. "The next generation expects them. You will need that generation every bit as much as you needed – and need – this one. We will accept nothing less."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

CWA and Verizon Reach a Tentative Agreement

New Contract with Verizon Defeats the Most Aggressive Attack Ever on the Living Standards of Our Members, Preserves Job and Retirement Security for 34,000 
On September 19th, the CWA reached a tentative agreement with Verizon Communications that protects the job security and retirement security of our 34,000 members from Virginia to Massachusetts. 
A new contract was also negotiated between Verizon Wireless and 70 CWA-represented technicians who maintain cell sites in the metropolitan New York area.
Our new contract was won only after a militant two-week strike in August, 2011, and an ensuing 13 month on-the-job membership contract campaign that mobilized tens of thousands of members. It also took the support of literally hundreds of our allies, in labor and community groups all across the country, who adopted our struggle as their own, leafleted Verizon Wireless stores, joined our picket lines and rallies, and pressured Verizon management however they could. 
“Our members stood up to the most sweeping and intensive attack on our standard of living and bargaining rights in the history of the telecommunications industry,” said Chris Shelton, Vice President for CWA District One, which stretches from Maine to New Jersey. “The unity and determination of 34,000 CWA members since bargaining began in June, 2011 has produced a new agreement that preserves intact our members’ pension and job security, provides for a substantial wage increase, and preserves a high-quality health plan.
“The solidarity of CWA members and the support of our progressive allies made this contract happen,” said Ed Mooney, Vice President of CWA District 2-13, which covers CWA members from Pennsylvania to Virginia. “Verizon workers will keep their standard of living and the benefits and working conditions we've fought for over the years.”

Job Security Preserved:
  • Existing job security language, including a prohibition on layoffs, forced transfer or downgrade of workers hired before 2003 and the .7% restriction on the company’s ability to relocate work out of the region, were preserved intact.
  • Provisions of the contract which restrict the company’s right to reassign workers long distances from their homes (35-mile rule) have been preserved.
Retirement Security Preserved:
  • The existing defined benefit pension plan has been preserved for all current employees, including the lump sum cash out provisions.
8.2% Compounded Wage Increased Plus Other Compensation:
  • Wage increases of 2.25% effective the first Sunday after ratification, 2.75% effective August 4, 2013, and 3% effective August 3, 2014. This amounts to an 8.2% wage increase with compounding.
  • In addition, members will receive a $800 signing bonus 30 days after ratification of the new agreement.
  • There will be annual corporate profit-sharing payments of at least $700 per year.
New Bargaining Unit Jobs
  • Verizon will hire 300 new full-time call center employees during the life of the contract
  • Verizon New York will bring back into the bargaining unit certain underground cable placing work currently performed by contractors in upstate New York.
Medical Plan
  • CWA members at Verizon will continue to have access to the most comprehensive, lowest-cost health care plan in the industry.
  • The unions and Verizon negotiated revisions to the current health plan that require workers to make modest contributions toward the cost of health care premiums. For participants in the MEP and HCN, these payments will start at $60 per month for family coverage and $30 per month for individual coverage as of November 2012, and rise over the remaining years of the contract to $110 family and $55 individual per month at the conclusion of the four year contract.
  • For participants in the EPO, HMOs and other plans, payments will start at $45 individual and $90 family, and rise to $82.50 individual and $165 family by the end of the agreement. These rates are higher because there are no deductibles in these plans.
  • These premiums include a $100 credit for employees who participate in an on-line health care assessment survey.
  • Effective January 1, 2013, Verizon will contribute $850 to a tax-free Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) for current employees which can be used to offset increased out of pocket costs under the new health plan, and can be carried over from year to year at the employee’s discretion.
  • Any retiree who leaves service before January 1, 2013 will not be required to contribute to the cost of retiree medical care.
  • Employees who were hired after August 3, 2008 will see an increase in their retiree medical care accrual from $430 to $480 per year of service towards the coverage of the cost of health care.
  • Effective January, 2013, there will be changes to contract provisions covering paid absence days. Payment for incidental absence (personal illness or off-duty accidents) will be capped at 10 days.
  • Four incidental absence days per year shall not be subject to the Absence Control Plan.
  • Employees who use four or less absence days per year will be awarded a lump sum payment as follows:
o Employees with perfect attendance will receive a lump sum payment of five days’ pay.
o Employees who use less than two days will receive four days’ pay.
o Employees who use less than 3 days will receive 3 days’ pay.
o Employees who use less than 4 days will receive 2 days’ pay.
o Employees who 4 days will receive 1 days’ pay.
  • According to company figures, in 2011, 76% of our members used fewer than 10 days of absence. 48% of our members would have received one of the incentive payments listed above, based on their absence record. 29% would have received a week’s pay.
  • Accident and Sickness Disability remains unchanged.
Additional Contract Provisions
  • Employees hired after ratification will be covered by a 401(k) retirement program that provides a 100% company match for any employee contributions up to 6% of salary. They will also receive an annual discretionary bonus of up to 3% of their salary added to their 401(k).
  • Contract provides continuing funding to the Work-Family Committee of $1.5 million per year ($6 million over the life of the contract).
  • The TTA/Next Step program will be phased out over the life of the agreement.
  • Any member currently enrolled in TTA/Next Step will be entitled to complete the program and retain that title and associated wages and benefits.
  • Tuition Assistance Program will be capped at $8,000 per year.
Workers Fired During 2011 Strike
  • Upon ratification, 25 of the 26 CWA members fired during the strike will be returned to work, with restoration of full Net Credited Service and pension benefits.
  • We are working on a settlement for one worker
There are changes in our health care that will result in premiums and plan design changes which will result in some increased out-of-pocket expenses. However, when wages and the company-funded tax-free Healthcare Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) are factored in, CWA members will be better off, financially, at the end of this round of bargaining than they were at the start.
We started this round of bargaining with the best contract in the telecommunications industry. Your bargaining team is convinced that despite the intense attacks from Verizon, we have negotiated a contract that remains the BEST in the telecommunications industry.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chicago teachers strike ends with a ratification vote

By Mary Wisniewski and James B. Kelleher 
Reuters / September 19, 2012 

Public school doors in Chicago will open on Wednesday following a settlement between the city and its teachers. Chicago's mayor Rahm Emanuel called the agreement, 'an honest compromise.'

Mary Edmonds, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates, celebrates after the delegates voted to suspend the strike against the school district Tuesday in Chicago. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

 Chicago public school teachers voted on Tuesday to end their strike and resume classes in the third-largest U.S. school district, ending a confrontation with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that focused national attention on struggling urban schools.

Some 800 union delegates representing the 29,000 teachers and support staff in Chicago Public Schools voted overwhelmingly to resume classes on Wednesday after more than two hours of debate.

"I am so thrilled that people are going back," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. "Everybody is looking forward to seeing their kids tomorrow."

Lewis, an outspoken former high school chemistry teacher, said the entire membership of the union will cast a formal vote in the next two weeks to ratify a new contract agreement.

The delegates ended the strike on their second attempt, having decided on Sunday to continue the walkout for two more days so they could review details of a proposed three-year contract with Emanuel.

Emanuel had to retreat from a proposal to introduce merit pay for teachers and he promised teachers that at least half of all new hires in the district would be from union members laid off by the closing of schools.

Speaking at Walter Payton College Prep school in Chicago after the vote, Emanuel said he was pleased by the outcome.

"This settlement is an honest compromise," he said. "It means a new day and a new direction for Chicago public schools."

Lewis led the walkout on Sept. 10, the first Chicago teachers' strike in 25 years, to protest Emanuel's demand for sweeping education reforms. Some 350,000 public school students were affected by the largest U.S. labor dispute in a year.

Emanuel on Monday tried to get a court order ending the strike, angering the union. A court hearing on his request is scheduled for Wednesday.

The strike focused attention on a national debate over how to improve failing schools. Emanuel, backed by a powerful reform movement, believes poorly performing schools should be closed and reopened with new staff or converted to "charter" schools that often are non-union and run by private groups.

Teachers want more resources put into neighborhood public schools to help them succeed. Chicago teachers say many of their students live in poor and crime-ridden areas and this affects their learning. More than 80 percent of public school students qualify for free meals based on low family incomes.

Only about 60 percent of Chicago students graduate from high school, far below the national average of 75 percent and more than 90 percent in some affluent Chicago suburbs.

The decision by the union to walk out of classrooms eight days ago rather than accept Emanuel's reforms galvanized the weakened U.S. labor movement after a string of national defeats.   

Broadcast Union News Note: The recent win by the utility workers union in a battle against Con Edison was a signal that labor is back big time.

Unions lost battles recently in Wisconsin, where Republicans stripped public sector unions such as teachers of most powers to bargain, Indiana's decision to make payment of union dues voluntary, and the vote of two California cities to curb the pensions of government workers.

Broadcast Union News Note: Recently the courts threw out much of Wisconsin's anti-labor legislation, another big win for unions.

President Barack Obama was silent throughout the nasty dispute in his home city between Emanuel, who had been was his top White House aide, and a national union that supports Obama.
The strike had raised concern that the rift could damage union support for Obama and Democrats in the run-up to the Nov. 6 presidential and congressional elections. Teacher rallies drew support from other unions in Chicago from unions in neighboring states such as Wisconsin and Indiana.

Analysts said Emanuel was damaged politically by the confrontation, having alienated organized labor in a city with a long history of union activism.

"Rahm has been bruised by this fight, but he's still standing," said Harley Shaiken, a professor of labor studies at the University of California, Berkeley. "He may have to learn that using a bulldozer isn't the most effective tool to be used in all circumstances." Some union delegates on Tuesday said they wanted the strike to end because they did not want to lose the support of parents inconvenienced by a long dispute. Parents scrambled to find alternative childcare during the strike.

"I'm so excited that my kids are going back to school," said Tiffany King, whose sister cared for King's 12-year-old child during the strike. "Every day I would tell my child, 'You'll be back to school soon,'" she said.

The contract that was agreed with Emanuel includes several compromises, including on his key demand that teacher evaluations be based on results of standardized tests of student in reading, math and science. Test results will be taken into consideration but not as much as Emanuel originally wanted.

"For the first time, teachers will have a meaningful evaluation system...Our evaluation system has not changed in 40 years while our students and the world they will live in and will work in has," Emanuel said.

Many Chicago public school students perform poorly on the tests. The union distrusts Emanuel, fearing he will use the poor academic record to close scores of schools now that the strike has been called off, leading to mass teacher layoffs.

"I hope he agrees to this in good faith and carries out this contract," Lewis said.

The proposed deal calls for an average 17.6 percent pay raise for teachers over four years and some benefit improvements. Chicago teachers make an average of about $76,000 annually, according to the school district.

Financial analysts have said the agreement likely will bust the school district's budget and could lead to its credit rating being downgraded, forcing it to pay higher interest rates to finance any deficits.

Monday, September 17, 2012

NY Times Negotiators Refuse To Improve Their Contract Proposals



Contract talks resumed today with more discussion of the Incentive Bonus Plan, as management refused to budge from its original offer that capped the maximum annual bonus for employees at a mere 2 percent of salary. Two days ago, Guild negotiators presented a counter-proposal to raise the bonus maximum to 20 percent – still far less than the non-Guild maximum – with goals determined by management and payouts made only if the goals were met.

In response to their unchanged offer, New York Guild President Bill O’Meara told management negotiators: “Why is it so hard for you to recognize the contributions of our members? This is a needless slap in the face.”

This disappointing development was just another example of company negotiators’ unwillingness to move by a single penny from their original proposal. This has been standard operating procedure since talks began in February 2011. The company’s financial package, which has not changed, includes a raise of only 1 percent over three years, a sharp cut in pension spending and a negligible increase in health care spending that would choke the fund that covers employee medical claims.

While management has embraced the concept of the Guild’s alternative pension plan proposal, which would preserve a defined benefit pension plan at The Times, it would buy into the innovative plan on the cheap – by slashing its annual pension funding to $3.5 million from the current $10 million. It doesn’t take an MBA to conclude benefits would fall sharply as a result.

On health care, management is sticking with its original proposal to increase its spending by only $200,000. With its current funding to the Guild-Times benefits fund at about 6 percent of payroll, or roughly $6 million a year, the company is spending less than half on employee health care than most companies its size. Without a sizable increase, the benefits fund, which is jointly overseen by Guild and management trustees, will eventually run out of money as medical costs rise, raising the possibility that employees will again have to increase their contributions to it.

The only small movement on the company’s part today involved the verification process for the Incentive Bonus Plan, to ensure that goals and payouts would use the same formula as the current management plan.

Friday’s planned bargaining session will be used for the Guild committee to work on counter-proposals. The next full-table negotiating session is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 20,2012.

Friday, September 14, 2012

CWA Stands With The Chicago Teachers Union

CWA supports the fight by Chicago teachers, members of the AFT, for a fair contract and a voice in the classroom. Sign this petition to send that message to The Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Here's what CWA President Larry Cohen said:

It's time to confront elected officials who try to divide working women and men. Chicago's Mayor should heed the words of President Obama, who in his Labor Day proclamation just a few days ago said, "I am committed to preserving the collective bargaining rights that helped build the greatest middle class the world has ever known. It is the fundamental right of every American to have a voice on the job, and a chance to negotiate for fair pay, safe working conditions, and a secure retirement. When we uphold these basic principles, our middle class grows and everybody prospers."

Whether in the public or private sectors, whether we are union or not, working men and women need to defend those rights as we did in Wisconsin and across the nation over the past 18 months.

The Chicago teachers are more than willing to support reform but this cannot include class sizes of more than 40 students, almost total reliance in evaluating teachers on test scores, and scapegoating teachers and other educational staff for much bigger problems.

Quality public education is critical in every 21st century democracy and all of us need to stand up and fight back. 

NewsGuild-CWA President Bernie Lunzer writes that there's no merit in merit pay systems.

"With the Chicago teachers on strike, we’re going to be hearing a lot more about “incentivized” compensation – you know, a merit pay system that demands that you “earn” your raise.

Why is “earn” in quotes? Because the problem with merit-pay schemes is that they are subjective: Does your boss like you or not? The best and brightest workers may – or just as likely may not -- be the best paid.

In bargaining contracts for nearly 80 years, NewsGuild-CWA has always allowed employers to pay more than the minimums we negotiate. If it means keeping a popular columnist or reporter, publishers often loosen the otherwise firm grip on their wallets.

Our concern isn’t the maximum that publishers are willing to pay, it’s the minimum wages and salaries that our contracts set for the majority of workers in a given organization. Those minimums must respect the value of the work our members do.

The same is true of teachers. In fact, we have often compared our professional wages to what teachers earn.

So we can imagine how teachers feel when they’re being told that their financial security could be at the whim of a merit-pay system.

Based on my experience professionally and personally, I can honestly say I’ve never met a merit pay system that worked as it was billed. In most cases managers either don’t do proper reviews, or use skewed criteria. The result is the same – the people hired most recently by current managers, and longer-time favorite employees do well. Older workers, those whom managers have inherited and don’t like, suffer.

What’s most troubling is that these systems are supposed to be based on objective criteria. In a creative environment like a newsroom, that is almost impossible. Writing is a very subjective matter. Some folks have excelled at cranking out a number of quick stories per day, while others focus on longer-term pieces based on research, relationships and investigation. Some are tremendous reporters but less skilled writers who require more editing.

Teaching is subjective, too, no matter how determined administrators and school boards are to tie teachers’ salaries to their students’ standardized test scores. The fact is, student outcomes are based on many things, only some of which are within a teacher’s control.

It’s too simple to say, the better the teacher, the better the students. Some students need far more help than others. When teachers’ financial security is at stake, do they focus on the neediest at the expense of students more likely to score well on standardized tests? The point is, no teacher should have to make that decision.

Unfortunately, merit pay is just the first round for the blame-the-teachers crowd. Their main target is tenure, taking away teachers’ job security. Our teachers are already under enormous stress, and without tenure I have no doubt that we’d lose many teachers – and I don’t mean because bad teachers would be fired. I mean good teachers, already fed up with teaching to the test, would say “Enough!” and leave on their own.

NewsGuild-CWA pursues job security language in our contracts. It allows our members to concentrate on the work they love without worrying that they could lose their job at any moment. I know of no situation where our contract language has inhibited a good manager’s ability to deal with a worker who has shortcomings. Yes, you can even fire people when you clearly make your case using the standard of “just cause.” We don’t protect incompetent workers and never have. We do protect workers from lazy managers who want to play God by firing someone indiscriminately.

That’s the kind of unfair system that teachers are fighting against. It troubles me that good people who should know better – even some of our own members – think that making things less fair for teachers will make things better for students.

It’s time for parents, teachers, administrators and their larger communities to come together in search of real solutions for children’s education. Putting ever-more pressure on teachers and blaming their union are not the answers."

Bernie Lunzer
President, NewsGuild-CWA

Mobilize the Power of NYC Labor in Solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Strike

By Class Struggle Education Workers/UFT

 Their Fight Is Our Fight, Crucial for Entire Union Movement 

The Chicago Teachers Union is taking a crucial stand against the so-called “ed reformers” who want to destroy public education and teachers unions. The strike by 25,000 Chicago teachers has galvanized education unionists who have been under assault across the country – we know they are fighting for all of us. UFT president Michael Mulgrew rightly told the AFT convention: “You come after one of us, you deal with all of us.” Let’s make it real.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (right)
The stakes are high. The CTU is up against the Big Three triumvirate of privatizers and union-busters: President Barack Obama, who supported the mass firings of teachers in Central Falls, Rhode Island, and whose Race to the Top seeks to charterize public education;  Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former schools chief in Chicago; and Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff whose first act as Mayor of Chicago was to declare war on the teachers union. It was in Chicago that they concocted their program; it is in Chicago where the line has now been drawn in the sand.

Emanuel angered teachers last year when he appointed Jean-Claude Brizard as Chicago Public Schools chief. Brizard is a graduate of the Eli Broad Foundation’s Superintendents Academy – the notorious anti-teacher outfit that pushes merit pay, corporate management and charter-schools – key points in the Obama education plan. Brizard used to work for Bloomberg as a superintendent in the NYC DOE and then went on to become head of the Rochester NY public schools.  He was available for the Chicago job after the teachers union in Rochester took a 94.6 percent vote of no confidence in him.

 Chicago teachers are striking over the crucial issues in public education today: Class size; new teacher evals which will victimize teachers for student performance based on insane standardized tests; racist school closings, with charters being opened in their place, then the firing of teachers whose classrooms are closed down; pay based on “merit,” and an end to seniority  rights; so-called “data- driven education” (read doctored stats), and an agenda that seeks the privatization of education through charter schools and computer programs to “teach” classes online. 

 Wear red on Wednesday?  Send checks to the CTU?  We need to do a whole lot more. We need to put the full power of our education unions into the fight.  We have more than 80,000 teachers in NYC teaching one million kids. We need everyone brought out to a massive demonstration of the UFT as well as the CUNY union, the Professional Staff Congress, and bringing in other public employee unions such as the TWU.

Mobilize the numbers and the power of labor in real solidarity with Chicago teachers!

From New York to Chicago to L.A.: defeat the privatizers and union-busters!

Victory to the CTU!

Nicholas Kristof Didn’t Join Colleagues To Back NYT Overseas Employees in Union Fight

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof   (World Economic Forum / Flickr / Creative Commons)
Today, two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof penned an op-ed titled “Students Over Unions” bashing the Chicago Teachers Union's current strike. Kristof writes,
I’d be sympathetic if the union focused solely on higher compensation. Teachers need to be much better paid to attract the best college graduates to the nation’s worst schools. But, instead, the Chicago union seems to be using its political capital primarily to protect weak performers.
Ironically, when Kristof started off at the Times in the 1980s, he was protected by similar job-security provisions as a member of the Newspaper Guild of New York. When Kristof become a columnist for the paper, he ceased being a union member. Now that Kristof is a star, union members say that he has given them the cold shoulder when they have asked for help in restoring pensions to the foreign overseas employees who have very likely helped Kristof in his reporting.

In January, the New York Times froze the pensions of its non-U.S.-citizen overseas employees, many of whom work in dangerous hotspots as translators and fixers. The move greatly upset New York Times reporters, especially with two recent deaths of foreign employees: the 2009 killing of reporter Sultan Munadi (a former Times interpreter) in Afghanistan while he was trying to protect a Times reporter, and of Times translator Khalid W. Hassan outside of Baghdad in 2007.

More than 600 New York Times employees condemned the pension freeze in an open letter to New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr, last December. “Our foreign citizen employees in overseas bureaus have just had their pensions frozen with only a week’s warning. Some of these people have risked their lives so that we can do our jobs,” read the letter. “A couple have even lost them. Many have spent their entire careers at the Times—indeed, some have letters from your father explaining the pension system—and deserve better treatment.”

One union member says he wrote to Kristof--who has won two Pulitzers for his overseas reporting and surely worked with New York Times' foreign employees--and asked him to sign the letter. He says Kristof ignored him.

“I was one of the several authors of the letter. At the time, I wrote individually to all the columnists [except Krugman] asking them to consider signing it. Because some had been foreign correspondents and had depended on those people who were being unilaterally screwed out of their pensions and who had no union protection, I hoped they would step forward,” says New York Times science reporter Donald McNeil. “But not one signed. Not one even answered my note. Since then, I’ve hoped that at least one or two would weigh in on our struggle here. But nothing. Silence.”

Nicholas Kristof did not respond to a request for comment for this story. 

Currently, the New York Times is locked in an ugly contract struggle with the union that Kristof once belonged to, the Newspaper Guild of New York. The reporters at the New York Times have worked without a contract for nearly a year and a half, since their previous contract expired on March 31, 2011. (Full disclosure: I am an associate member of the Newspaper Guild (TNG-CWA).)

As the contract battle heats up at the New York Times, union leaders such as O’Meara are hoping more star reporters and columnists speak up. He fears that the New York Times is going to seek an impasse in bargaining with the National Labor Relations Board in order to unilaterally impose a concessionary contract on unionized reporters. 

The New York Times is also trying to eliminate pensions for its U.S. employees, according to Newspaper Guild of New York President Bill O’Meara. 

Another big sticking point in contract negotiations is that the New York Times wants to further increase employee healthcare costs, which are already high. “According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the typical worker at a large company pays 24 percent of his or her total health premiums, with the company paying 76 percent. But we at the Times pay 46 percent of our total health premiums—nearly double the nationwide employee average—while the Times pays just 54 percent,” wrote veteran Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse in an email to union members that was leaked to the press in April.

“People think they are stars and don’t need a union. Unfortunately, what happens is there is a change in management and their star dims a bit, and they do need a union,” says Bill O'Meara. “It’s a real shame."

As someone who attempted to organize reporters myself as part of the Newspaper Guild, I can tell you that solidarity can be difficult to find in reporters whose job security comes from their byline and not their union clout. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon for star reporters or columnists to stay out of union struggles, feeling that their jobs are protected by the power of their brands. Reporters as popular as Kristof, who has over 1 million Twitter followers, are the least likely to suffer a pay cut or a layoff, as the New York Times could ill afford to lose them.

But other Times reporters may face a tougher situation.

“I think it is going to come to a head in the next month,” says O’Meara. “The struggle is going to get very difficult. Various things are going to happen. Nobody is ruling out a strike. Obviously we want to avoid it and get a contract.”

Broadcast Union News: Read more about The Newspaper Guild's ongoing struggle for a fair contract at The New York times at: http://saveourtimes.com/.