MODESTO BEE BULLETIN #5
The Guild and The McClatchy Company came to a tentative agreement on a new contract when it met to continue bargaining on Thursday. The existing contract expired Dec. 31.
Meeting for the guild was Executive Officer Carl Hall, Administrative Officer Kat Anderson and Modesto Unit Chair Marijke Rowland and for the company was attorney Aaron Agenbroad, Editor Joe Kieta and VP of Human Resources Cathy Allison.
The Guild and company had narrowed the open issues to a little more than half a dozen sections covering everything from wages to cell/data reimbursement, dual work provisions and furlough rights as well as benefits language and rehire list improvements.
The tentative agreement largely maintains the status quo while including some modest gains for employees, as well as some new work provisions from the company.
The new agreement includes:
1) Raises to wage levels on the merit pay scales for the top and bottom tiers:
The lowest scale was moved from “Up to $699 per week” to “Up to $799 per week.” So any employee earning under $799 a week would now be included in that classification for merit increases. We also moved the top tier up from “Over $1350 per week Lump Sum” to “Over $1400 per week Lump Sum.” So any employee making $1250-$1,399 would now see an increase to his/her base pay instead of a lump sum bonus.
These are small gains for those making the least and the most in the newsroom, but more significantly, they represent the first change in the wage scales since 2008.
2) Increases to the cell/data reimbursement with documentation:
The company agreed that employees shall receive no less than their current rate of cell and data reimbursement ($30 for cell and $30 for data/internet per month) without providing additional documentation with the possibility for more depending on actual costs. Anything over the $30/$30 amounts would require additional documentation.
I urge all employees to put in for at minimum the $30/$30 amounts for cell and data/internet plans. Also anyone who uses their cell/data plans in excess of that should expense those charges to the company.
3) Extension of the rehire list with mandatory notification:
The maintenance of a rehire list for employees who have been laid off due to a reduction in force has been extended to three years, from the current one year. The company must also notify the Guild via mail of any current openings.
Language was also included in this section that ensures employees who voluntarily apply for a buyout during a reduction of force layoff would be eligible for unemployment benefits. No such language existed in the contract before.
4) Creation of split shift schedules with mutual agreement only:
The company may schedule up to two employees to a split-shift work schedule on any given week. But the split shift would only be approved with mutual agreement between the management and the employee. This means it would be the employee’s right to refuse any split shift schedule. And the company may not force or coerce any employee to work a split shift. Essentially, if you want to work a split shift, you can with company agreement. But if you do not want to, you absolutely do not have to. Period.
5) Maintenance of existing health and welfare benefits language in the contract:
We were able to move the company off its provision to “streamline” existing benefits language, which would have eliminated all the clauses pertaining to the rights to life insurance, spousal/domestic partner benefits and a 30-day period before benefits start for all employees.
6) Continuation of the right to furloughs:
While the company initially came to the table wanting six furlough weeks over the three-year contract, we were able to negotiate them down to four weeks. This amount – four weeks over the three-year contract – is the same we have agreed to in past contracts. While no one wants furloughs, we were pleased to not pile on any additional weeks as they are an incredible hardship on employees.
7) Changes to the dual-work provision:
The Guild was not able to move the company off its review of dual work (reporters taking photos/videos and vice versa) provision. Language that grandfathered in all employees hired before the signing date of the last contract (in 2012) to not be judged on the quality of that dual work has been removed. The new language reads: “Reporters and desk personnel may be assigned as photographers (this includes the use of any equipment able to capture images) and photographers may be assigned as reporters.”
This was a significant point of contention during negotiations and the final item of agreement for both sides. The guild acknowledges that to be competitive and up-to-date in today’s increasingly digital media environment, reporters and photographers must be multimedia journalists. To cling to language that denies the need for reporters to have these skills seems counterproductive. However, we were able to have the company give us verbal assurances that reporters would not be judged up to professional photographers standards. And we were also able to have the company verbally assure us that they are open and willing to provide more training to reporters and photographers to increase their multimedia skills.
Company attorney Agenbroad said specifically at the table: “(We will have) no interest or effort to evaluate a reporter on a photographer standard. We get that would not be fair.”
So, if the future quality of any of your multimedia content comes into question during a JPR I urge every one of you to challenge those reviews to make sure we are not being held to an unrealistic standard. If such issues come up please do not hesitate to contact the guild leadership.
So, as you can see, the new contract offers some gains and some new standards for employees. I’m particularly pleased we could make moves on the merit tiers, the cell/data reimbursement, extension of a rehire list and maintenance of existing benefits language. So I strongly urge all members to ratify this agreement. I am confident, under the current economic circumstances, we’ve made as good of a deal as we can.
We will hold a ratification vote via email for all guild members in good standing by Friday, Feb. 20. I will let you know the exact date for the vote once it is finalized. If ratified, this new language will cover all non-managerial editorial unit Modesto Bee employees – those in the union and those not in the union.
If you are interested in joining the union so you can vote on the contract, I have attached current membership information. Dues for full-time members are $48.53 a month for those with less than six years experience and $55.71 a month for those with more.
I realize you may have questions about the tentative agreement and what it means to you. If you are interested in meeting to talk about any of these issues, please let me know. I would be happy to set up a short meeting to discuss the contract and vote. You are also welcome to message me with any questions at any time.
Modesto Bee Unit Chair