Tuesday, September 25, 2012

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."

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