Hearst unwilling to talk turkey in negotiations

The Guild bargaining committee met with Hearst Corp. and Chronicle management Thursday and Friday. We offered a new framework to merge our membership into the management-controlled health system if the company agreed to help keep employee costs down.

Management failed to address our core concerns, rejecting at least for now Guild proposals to enhance pay, vacations and retirement. The company also showed little interest in capping health premiums or paying bonuses to help employees maintain decent take-home pay and quality health care for their families.

Hearst has proposed coverage options that would push the monthly payroll cost for Kaiser members – our most popular health choice – for a single employee to $219 per month based on 2012 rates, with an increase soon to be announced for 2013. That compares with our current Guild-run health plan’s employee-only monthly Kaiser premium of $66, increasing to $84 in 2013. For a Guild family’s coverage, Kaiser costs us $265 a month this year, rising to $316 in 2013. The Hearst company plan right now charges $530 a month for Kaiser full family coverage – and we expect roughly a 5 percent jump starting in January.

The proposed move into the management-run plan would end the Guild trust fund and any further voice for our members in how our health care plans are designed and costs are set. The move, which could take effect as early as June 1, 2013, if we agree, would have some advantages as well, including an end to chronic financial deficits that have taxed our plan’s reserves. Keeping those advantages in mind, the Hearst health care offerings are also considerably more expensive to employees, and Guild members do not have the same perqs and pay to cover the higher costs of health care.

Our committee has been battling for full disclosure and a reasonable transition, while preserving our option to stick with the system we have if the merger plan runs aground.

We have operated the Media Guild Health & Welfare Trust since 1964. Key decisions are made by local management and union trustees meeting together. By contrast, Hearst operates its corporate plans in Charlotte, N.C., with no input from employees. We have requested detailed information about the corporate health care benefit system. But the company has yet to produce all the materials we need to recommend that our members give up our current plans. And unlike management, which on average is paid more than Guild members, some of us can’t afford to gamble with our family’s health care needs.

We are particularly anxious to understand how the management sets Kaiser HMO premiums. For reasons no one could explain Thursday and Friday, the company sets Kaiser contributions far higher than for any other option, even though the HMO costs the company the least among the various plans offered.

We all agree that something must be done soon. Our health care trust is underfunded by roughly $100,000 a month, a reflection of the fact that Hearst has not agreed to increase its monthly contributions to the trust since 2005. By contrast, the Guild membership has accepted regular cost increases and diverted money from our paychecks to keep the plan solvent.

We adjourned Friday without setting a date to resume talks, but the negotiations clearly are not yet done. We presented a new comprehensive package proposal Friday, and hope the company will offer a meaningful response and genuine compromise soon.

On a separate topic, we reached a tentative agreement Friday on terms for up to five, Guild-covered two-year temporary reporters. Pay for these positions could start at less than the contract minimum, but would rise to full scale by the end of the two-year period. We also agreed to lift restrictions on the assignments these staff members would receive.

Guild Bargaining Team: Carl Hall, Michael Cabanatuan, Jon Ferguson, Autumn Grace, Matthai Kuruvila and Kat Anderson.

Chronicle Bargaining Team: Carolene Eaddy, Aryn Sobo, Peter Rahbar, Cathy Rommelfanger, and Suzy Cain.

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Michael Applegate

Pacific Media Workers Executive Officer