More information about BANG-EB contract negotiations

Colleagues,

There have been some misunderstandings about the latest bargaining update, and I don’t think it completely captures the tone of the negotiations, so I decided to commandeer the email list and blog to give you some more specific details and what some of the disputes are from my perspective.  (Take that as a disclaimer.  This email is from me, as an individual employee, not from the guild as a whole.)

Some people got the impression from our latest update that our focus so far has been on bereavement leave and that we’ve only brought up non-economic issues.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  While I believe the bereavement concession is important because it gives us the first common paragraph between the East Bay and South Bay deals, and while I appreciate them meeting us on that point, it’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

When we first sat down with the company’s representatives in May we handed them a complete contract proposal, which was essentially the Mercury News contract with references to non-newsroom employees stripped out.  It included not just their pay scale – with a minimum salary 20% higher than the East Bay average – but also a long list of other benefits and protections they enjoy but we don’t get.  Our goal was to use the Mercury News contract as a starting point in negotiations since we do the same job for the same company, for the same editors, in many cases in the same newsroom.  In fact the similarities go so far that some East Bay reporters pick up South Bay beats when their reporters are on vacation.  All my largest projects appear exclusively on the Mercury News web site.  There’s no defensible reason for us to essentially be second-class citizens.

Naturally they said no.

The company claimed they can’t afford to pay us anything near the Bay Area median wage and challenged us to bring them non-economic parity issues to justify our claims that we’re being disrespected.  While I refuse to believe Digital First Media – a company with 57 million readers in 18 states – can’t afford to pay us the same as they’re paying our South Bay colleagues, non-economic issues are important to us as well so we presented to them a list of about half a dozen issues that wouldn’t cost them much if any money.

They rejected all but two.  One we tentatively accepted, that’s the bereavement issues, and another is pending discussions with the employees affected.  These are some of the ones they rejected and their stated reason why:

Transfers: We proposed the following language from the Mercury News contract:

No employee shall be transferred by the Company to another city without the employee’s consent. No employee shall be transferred to a non-represented affiliate enterprise of the Company without his or her consent. There shall be no transfers without good business reason.

1. No transfer shall be for punitive reasons nor create an undue hardship.
2. The Company shall pay all transportation and other moving expenses of the transferred employee and his/her family.
3. There shall be no reduction in salary or impairment of other benefits as a result of such transfer.

We’re frankly tired of being shuffled around the East Bay like pieces on a chessboard with no consideration for the impact it has on our finances and families.  A transfer from Oakland to Hayward costs at least $1,500 annually and takes the employee away from his or her family for nearly 250 hours per year.  A transfer from Walnut Creek to Pleasanton can cost over $5,000 and take over 300 hours per year away.

We believe the South Bay language we proposed will solve that, by allowing employees to challenge transfers that create an undue hardship.  There are employees who actually live closer to the new location than their current one, and we would never stand in their way, but we do believe we should have some measure of control over where we work.

Company representative Andy Huntington’s reply is that the Mercury News provision was to prevent punitive transfers from the main office in San Jose, which carried more prestige, to outlying bureaus.  He contends that with the demise of the hub-and-spoke model the provision no longer serves any purpose.  He had no reply to my questions regarding hardship on employees except to point out that closing the Walnut Creek office will mean moving people out of Walnut Creek.

Outside Activity: This is the section as it currently exists in the East Bay contract:

An employee shall obtain prior permission from the Company to operate or post to a Web site or blog, or to create a blog, or to blog or otherwise use the internet when it identifies the employee as associated with the Company and reveals the employee’s personal opinions on newsworthy issues, or if the employee is so well know in the community to be associated with the Company.

We believe this is far too broad.  The way this paragraph is written any of us could be fired for posting a link on a Facebook page without permission, because it’s “otherwise [using] the Internet” while being “so well known … as to be associated with the company” which describes any of us with a byline.  It can essentially be a blank check to issue discipline.

Jim Janiga, another company representative, posited that the simple solution to that is to get permission to use Facebook or Twitter.  Granted that would solve the problem but if there has ever been a more condescending, paternalistic company policy I’ve yet to hear it.  Next we’ll have to raise our hands to use the restroom.

Length of Workweek:  The East Bay works 40 hours per week.  The South Bay works 37.5 hours per week.  That means Mercury News employees can leave half an hour earlier than us, even in cases like the Regional Team where the two groups are literally working side by side.

Janiga’s response was to dismiss it outright as a cost and outside the scope of what we were to be proposing.  He did not address the issues of disrespect and disparity it creates except to say that his preference would be to lengthen the South Bay workweek.

Those are just three examples.  We also got rejections on rehire rights, jurisdiction, non-consecutive days off, the extra holiday the South Bay gets every year, grievances and arbitration, a ban on pay cuts and more.  We’re presenting issues that cost little or nothing at their request and getting the same reaction as we did to the more important economic issues.

We’re fighting, we’re presenting a litany of issues that affect us all, and small concessions aside they’re not budging.  I don’t think they see any reason to.  It’s frustrating and it’s insulting.  And we need your help to change that.

We need you, all of you, to help us combat this.  Speak up and speak out.  Tell your coworkers, tell your supervisors (politely, of course, since they’re in the same boat we are and often suffering the same disrespect).  Show the company that you are paying attention, that you’re angry and that you will not be pushed around.   We all need to apply pressure to show them that they need to truly negotiate with us, not simply dismiss us out of hand on very serious issues that threaten the company’s future.

We can fight this.  If we want there to continue be a company at all, we must fight this.  We all know what these problems are doing to morale and employee retention and we all know that BANG-EB can’t survive this forever.

If you have any questions or comments, if you have suggestions of other issues or if you’d like to volunteer to help, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.  My email address and phone number are below and I’m usually in the Walnut Creek newsroom (I’m the tall bearded guy by the lobby door sitting at a wall of monitors).

We need help from each and every one of you.  Together we can get the treatment and respect we deserve.

Danny Willis
danieljwillis@gmail.com
925-890-4884

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