Tentative agreement on new contract at Chronicle

Caroline Grannan, unit chair, sat in front of a white board in a conference room where bargaining took place. The scribblings are either a summary of key terms in the tentative agreement reached Wednesday, or plans to build a nuclear reactor, we’re not sure which. Photo courtesy Curiouser & Curiouser 2018

GUILD – SF Chronicle unit


After 14 months of negotiations, the Chronicle and the Pacific Media Workers Guild on Wednesday reached tentative agreement on a four-year labor contract that offers an average annual merit-based pay raise of 2 percent and – for the first time – a 401(k) employer contribution and match of up to 2.5 percent of annual salary.

At 2:30 p.m., negotiators reached across the table and shook hands on a deal.

Terms include a 1 percent retroactive pay increase on minimum salaries listed in Schedules A and C in the labor agreement – effective July 1, 2017. The retroactive raise is worth about $875 per employee at top scale. The 2017 raise will apply to all employees, even if their actual salaries are more than the minimum.

Subsequent 1 percent raises in the contractual minimums will take effect July 1 in 2018, 2019 and 2020, but these raises would be subsumed and not paid if an employee’s overscale exceeds the minimum. All employees would remain eligible for the merit increases.

The tentative agreement also includes a new lineup of benefits including free short-term disability insurance, long-term disability coverage and life insurance.

All told, assuming somebody gets the average merit raise, and isn’t already paid overscale, and assuming the person maxes out her or his 401(k) contribution, the value of the entire package would come to something like 5.5 percent more compensation by spring of 2019.

The tentative agreement will take effect only if a majority of voting Guild members approve. Ratification meetings are scheduled for Monday, Aug. 6, at noon and 5:30 p.m., on the second floor of the Guild building at 433 Natoma St., above the Tempest. Members who can’t make the meetings can come cast a ballot at the Guild office Monday by 6:30 p.m. We will also set up an electronic ballot so those who cannot vote in person can cast their vote via email.

Under the terms of the deal:

  • Employees will be eligible for annual merit raises averaging 2 percent based on a guaranteed merit pay pool of 2 percent of total payroll. Those raises will be implemented in mid-October this year (based on factors including this year’s performance reviews) and in early April in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
  • Employees will get a contribution to their 401(k) retirement plan equal to 1 percent of annual salary. The company also agreed to match 25 percent of employee contributions up to 6 percent of annual salary, probably starting Oct. 1.
  • Guild employees will become eligible for the Hearst-sponsored LTD insurance (a benefit worth about $40 a month) at no cost to us. The existing Guild plan will be discontinued as soon as the transition is worked out.
  • Guild members will get short-term disability protection, and, while this will change the way sick leave works, Guild negotiators were successful in getting the company to agree that employees will keep their existing sick-leave banks.
  • Employees will get life insurance in the principal amount of a year’s salary — also at no cost to us.

For the first time, pay raises will be awarded not on a fixed cost-of-living basis but under a merit-based plan that calls for raises of zero to 5 percent – company negotiators said “high achievers” could get the higher amount and employees performing below expectations or on a personal improvement plan could be denied a raise.

That wasn’t what the Guild wanted. But the company made it a sticking point for any deal, and the Guild agreed to give a merit-based system – which has been implemented at other news organizations – a try. The company agreed to pay out the entire “merit pool,” subject to Guild confirmation each year. Also, anyone who objects to their evaluation or raise may appeal to management with Guild representation upon request.

The negotiations, at times heated, have been dragging on since June 2017. As late as 10 minutes before the tentative agreement was reached, the deal remained up in the air over a final sticking point – whether the 401(k) employer contribution for 2018 would be paid out based on an employee’s entire 2018 salary or only on the portion of 2018 salary earned after the contract is ratified.

The Guild insisted on the former interpretation, and the company, after an 11th-hour caucus, agreed. Straightening out that detail alone was worth more than $100,000 to members.

The switch to the merit-based plan means that the traditional across-the-board raises will become less of a factor in the contract.

The Guild made major concessions to reach the deal. The company insisted that about three dozen ad sellers be removed from Guild jurisdiction, and another three dozen ad support and marketing workers will have the choice whether to be dues-paying members, although their jobs remain in Guild jurisdiction. We urge all advertising and marketing department members to attend the Monday meetings to have a voice in this crucial change.

In exchange, the company agreed that all jobs that primarily involve creating or presenting content online will be added to the Guild jurisdiction. Fifteen current SFGate and SFChronicle.com non-union employees now have the option of becoming full dues-paying members. Future hires would be obligated to join under the existing union shop provision, the same as all other editorial workers.

Members of the bargaining committee invite all 15 to begin participating in the union, starting with the meetings on Monday.

Please contact any of the Guild negotiating team members with questions, and please attend one of the meetings Monday, Aug. 6.

Guild negotiating team:

Carl Hall, Guild executive officer chall@mediaworkers.org

Kat Anderson, Guild administrative officer, kanderson@mediaworkers.org

Mike Cabanatuan, Chronicle reporter and Guild Chronicle Unit vice chair, ctuan@aol.com

J.K. Dineen, Chronicle reporter, jkdineen@yahoo.com

Tara Duggan, Chronicle food writer, tdugg02@yahoo.com

Caroline Grannan, Chronicle copy editor and Guild Chronicle Unit chair, cgrannan@gmail.com

Steve Rubenstein, Chronicle reporter and Guild shop steward, stevenpaulrubenstein@gmail.com


Management negotiating team:

Renee Peterson, Hearst HR vice president

Sean Kurysh, Chronicle HR business partner

Mark Batten, Hearst outside counsel

Aryn Sobo, Hearst counsel


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Pacific Media Workers Guild

We are the Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. We represent more than 1,200 journalists and other media workers, interpreters, translators, union staffs and freelancers.