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High profile labor action sends message to Hearst: Fair contract now!

Guild members, workers-in-solidarity, labor leaders, and public officials gathered outside the Chronicle today to send a message to the Hearst Corp: Fair contract now!

In the fifth month of collective bargaining, Hearst has yet to make an offer to which the Guild can respond.  Rather, Hearst has said “no” to every economic proposal the Guild has made: no to a contribution to keep the health care plan alive; no to a 401k match; no to a 5th week of vacation; no to a reasonable pay increase.

Hearst has left the Guild with no option but to push back.  Guild members were activated, along with members of dozens of other unions, and all marched on the sidewalks in front of the news building chanting “What do we want? Health care! When do we want it? Now!,” singing “Solidarity Forever,” and holding signs with messages such as “Hearst needs head examined” and “Hearst health plan makes us sick.”

“It was a great display of commitment from inside the Chronicle and support from the outside. We had about two hundred people on the sidewalk for this rally that was the first event we’ve had like this in probably ten years. Unions from all over town, the head of the Labor Council, political people, retirees….it was a great way to spend a lunch hour,” said Carl Hall, Executive Officer of the Guild.

Among those who spoke in solidarity with the Chronicle workers were San Francisco Supervisors Jane Kim, Christina Olague and John Avalos.  All three carried signs and marched with the rest of the protesters.  Avalos was overhead quipping, “The Chronicle media workers will craft the stories and ‘Citizen Hearst’ will provide the health care.”

Each of the supervisors pledged support for the workers in the on-going struggle for affordable health care. They were joined by Tom O’Connor, President of the San Francisco Fire Fighters and Tim Paulson, head of the San Francisco Labor Council.

The Guild’s Chronicle unit has been negotiating with Hearst Corporation lawyers and members of Chronicle management since last spring.  The collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of June.

From the outset, the Guild’s bargaining committee made it clear that the employee health care plan was a top priority.  The plan is administered by a joint union-management trust which is overseen by three management-appointed trustees and three union-appointed trustees.  Hearst deposits $148 per week per full time employee into the trust to cover Kaiser and HealthNet for Guild members.

The Guild informed Hearst’s lawyers last spring that the trust funds were not sufficient to cover all the plan’s costs and that an infusion of cash of about $1 million was needed to cover reserve liabilities for the next year.  Hearst flat out refused to deal.

Instead, Hearst lawyers offered an “option”: let the health plan trust die and in its place, install a plan from Cigna that is a high deductible plan that is geared toward making employees bear the brunt of the costs of their medical coverage.

Despite having said in negotiations that they did not want to “disrupt” employee’s medical coverage, what Hearst has offered as an “option” would spell the death of Kaiser and HealthNet coverage, and would increase employee contributions toward their health care.  It would take only one “minor” accident to spell thousands of dollars in employee out-of-pocket costs — things that are currently covered by Kaiser and HealthNet with little to no extra cost to the employee.

In addition, after over 4 months of stalling and canceling meetings, Hearst offered a dismal 1.5 percent raise, but no detailed proposal.  In fact, it’s initial offer was a 1.5 percent raise for each of the next three years, but upon reflection, Hearst lawyers withdrew the term, leaving the Guild to guess at how long the raise would extend.  When asked why they withdrew their proposal, Hearst lawyers offered no sensible rationale.

For a detailed time line of activities leading up to and including collective bargaining, click here.

Kat Anderson

Kat Anderson

Pacific Media Workers Guild Administrative Officer/Business Agent, founder of Bay News Rising mentorship program for college journalism students and editor of mediaworkers.org.

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