Session 7: Off the record a dead end
After a somewhat contentious start, which never reached the point where the company responded to the revised proposal the Guild made Monday, a majority of Tuesday’s seventh bargaining session was spent off the record -- at the company’s request --, and in caucuses related to those off-the-record discussions. Unfortunately, that avenue ultimately proved a dead end, and the sides returned to on-the-record talks right back where they started when the day began.
Asked at that point late in the day if the company had anything more for the Guild, the answer was “No,” and bargaining recessed until Oct. 10. The company never did respond to anything in the Guild’s revised proposal, not even to those portions upon which both sides appear to agree.
The early portion of Tuesday’s session included an interesting revelation from the company. Following what has become the company’s traditional scolding of the Guild about the “real world,” a hollow expression of the company’s compassion for the pain company cuts have caused members and a reminder that management has shared in that pain – the same lecture Guild bargainers hear every time immediately after “offending” the company -- the Guild pressed hard for more transparency regarding the company’s financial situation. The discussion was wide-ranging (and more on it in a bit), and included talk of the relationship between the Loeb school and the newspapers, several contradictory and mistaken statements by members of the company team and how other Guild papers in New England are weathering these difficult times.
Finally, in response to a Guild statement that the company apparently can’t afford current pay, company vice presidents Sharon Ciechon and Ralph Ascoli, and retiree Ed Domaingue admitted, in unison, “WE’RE NOT SAYING WE CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY,” with Domaingue immediately adding, “We are keeping expenses in line with revenues. Period.”
Leading up to that admission, the Guild sought to impress upon the company the tarnished perception management has in members’ eyes; that members don’t perceive management as sharing equally in the pain of staff and pay and benefit reductions. The Guild again made clear that this company proposal seriously threatens the ability of some members to stay in their homes, and that the company has made no compelling argument to show members that “we’re all in this together.” The Guild urged much more transparency regarding the company’s finances. As examples of how the company might improve those perceptions, the Guild offered the developments in Portland, Maine, where staff reductions and buyouts include both management and Guild members, and where the Guild has gained representation on the company’s board of directors. It pointed to Quincy, Mass., where there also have been reductions in management personnel.
The Guild explained that even when management offers examples of its “shared pain,” members -- especially since we work in the news business -- would like some verification through a more open review of the company’s financial records. That explanation prompted an indignant Ed Domaingue to ask, “Do you think we’re lying? These are facts!” The Guild pointed out that seeking confirmation does not equal an accusation of lying. Journalists, especially, always seek to confirm facts. Domaingue responded, “This isn’t a news story.”
Ironically, during the discussion, Vice President of Advertising Ascoli stated that last year’s dividend was paid from company profits. He later had to correct himself. The company didn’t make a profit, he said. During the discussion, Vice President of Editorial Tami Plyler reaffirmed her earlier statement that management had “lost” their pension. Domaingue clarified, that management pensions are “frozen.” Plyler stated she didn’t have a pension. Ciechon snapped, “We did not lose our pension, it was frozen.” Ascoli said he doesn’t get a pension.
Besides the fuzzy math we’ve endured from the company, these are the sorts of “facts” Guild bargainers are presented and must wade through at the table while trying to bargain intelligently. Wasn’t it President Ronald Reagan who advised, “Trust, but verify”?
In a brief opening, the Guild stated the company has shown no compelling reason to usurp jurisdiction in Laconia – jurisdiction that has been the Guild’s since the first contract was signed almost 70 years ago in May of 1942. The Guild offered to look at creative ways inroads might be made in the coverage of that area, without violating Guild jurisdiction. The company said it would look at that before responding.
Future bargaining dates include Monday, Oct. 10, and Monday-Wednesday, Oct. 19-21. The Guild is planning to have its auditor here to review the company’s books on Thursday, Oct. 6. Trust us, as much as possible, we’ll verify.
***Quite a few mobilization efforts are underway. Please participate. If you need more info, contact your contact tree representative, a Guild officer, or an Eboard member.
Your Local 31167 Bargaining Committee