We have several new developments to report:
- The company’s representatives have finally produced a wage proposal: 1 percent the first year, and a pre-tax lump-sum of $800 for full-time employees and $600 for part-timers the second year, conditional on the Guild accepting a suite of take-backs, including the freezing of the traditional pension, elimination of any pension for new hires after Jan. 1, and the elimination of health care coverage for part-time workers and retirees. The Guild’s opening proposal was a 4 percent per year pay increase in a contract to run for three years. Though the company’s proposal of a 1 percent raise is parsimonious, it’s a decent start to the conversation. In the past, management has tended to open up wage talks with a stingy lump-sum proposal. This time around, management knows that its contract proposals are noxious and unacceptable, and include deep cuts to the retirement compensation of hard-working and loyal veterans of the Post (and, as a final kick in the pants, the halving of severance pay for those forced to leave). With the company bidding down the value of our work on so many fronts, The Guild is pleased to report that we’ll be able to discuss percentage wage increases, rather than lump-sum checks, right from the get-go.
- The Guild has retained a company to analyze The Post’s proposed pension freeze so that we can make a counter-proposal; the company has provided some, but not yet all, of the data necessary for the actuarial analysis. We remain hopeful on this issue: Management has said it is willing to bargain on the pension issue. For example, one possible counter-proposal from the Guild could involve a defined pension structure similar to that agreed upon in 2012 by employees and management at The New York Times in which retirees still get a defined benefit but assume some of the risk of market fluctuations. We need more information before we decide if that’s an attractive option. Other retirement-related issues also need to be negotiated. We have rejected the company’s proposal to eliminate any pension for employees hired after Jan. 1
- This week’s session began with a detailed analysis by Newspaper Guild veteran negotiator Bruce Nelson of The Post’s personnel evaluation system. Bruce praised the overall design of the system, while noting that the evaluations are inconsistently administered and in some cases fail to meet the company’s own standards. For example, in some cases the evaluator produced no comments to substantiate the ratings given an employee. The Guild offered to modify its earlier proposals on evaluations if the company agreed to a side letter that described how the evaluations are supposed to be conducted – language taken wholly from The Post’s guidelines. We expect the company to be willing to live by its own stated rules.
- The Guild raised the issue of The Post’s desire to have a more robust Web presence on the weekend. The Guild supports such efforts to adapt to the evolving digital news environment, but we reiterated our concern about the onstantly expanding workloads, the longer hours, the “mission creep,” and we stressed that employees should not be expected to work every single day of the week. In this country you are entitled to a weekend.
- A final note: We are working hard to deal with numerous management proposals for major changes in the contract that the company agreed to just a year ago. We continue to bargain in good faith and will persevere in our effort to seek a fair contract. We thank those of you who are dues-paying members, and ask those who have not yet joined to do so now, and put your shoulder to this very large but not immovable wheel.
—- the Guild Bargaining Committee
We’ll tell you – plus a bargaining update
We’d like to update you on developments at the bargaining table and set you straight on the union’s position on several important issues.
On Wednesday, the Guild brought in an expert on retirement benefits to back up its assertion that its proposal to freeze the pension and slash other retirement benefits is nothing less than “immoral.”
Ilana Boivie — an economist who analyzes pensions and other benefits for the Communications Workers of America — made the following points:
• Freezing the pension is entirely unnecessary
The Post’s pension fund is more than 220-percent overfunded, with a surplus of $147 million. The company has not had to put cash into the fund in 20 years, and that includes the darkest days of the recent recession.
• The Post has no problem paying millions into a pension plan covering only two senior executives – former publisher Katharine Weymouth and current president Stephen P. Hills – while cutting retirement benefits for the rank-and-file
While the Post wants to freeze the traditional pension – a move that affects about 58 percent of its Guild workforce – the company will pay an estimated $5 million this year alone for top executives’ pensions. It will be about $5.6 million in 2017.
• The Post’s broken promise is financially devastating to its employees
Employees will be taking a wage cut in the range of 17 to 39 percent if the Post proposal takes effect. An employee who now has 15 years of service and earns $50,000 a year will, after five years’ more service, suffer a nearly 25 percent cut to his or her retirement benefits – receiving about $13,000 a year instead of about $17,000. After 10 years’ additional service, the same employee will take a nearly 39 percent hit.
• The Post is jeopardizing its status as a topflight media organization that attracts and retains talent
By offering only bare-bones retirement benefits – nothing more than a 401 (k) and its SRA to new employees – The Post is jeopardizing its status as a topflight media organization that seeks to hire and retain talent. It is shifting most of the risk onto its employees who will have to fend for themselves in retirement. And this ultimately hurts the youngest staff most of all.
In negotiations with management, the Guild bargaining team has repeatedly asked for an explanation for why the slashing of pensions is necessary. We have asked for any data, or projections, that might indicate that this overfunded pension would one day pose a significant risk to the company. Management has repeatedly responded by saying that markets fluctuate, creating some risk for defined-benefit pension plans, and that “this is in the best long-term interest of the company.” Let’s all be clear about this: The defined-benefit plan was closed to new enrollees in 2009 and thus the long-term risk, to the extent that there is some, has already been reduced. Loyal employees of this company are now being asked to take a significant cut to the retirement income they expected to receive in order to lower a hypothetical risk being carried by a company that is now wholly owned by one of the richest people on the planet. This is outrageous and it is why the Guild has said no to this proposal.
On other topics, the Post has accused the Guild of trying to prevent the newsroom from using freelance material, such as an item by an outside contributor who wrote about driving her Mercedes to pick up food stamps. This is simply not true. The Guild negotiators told management at the bargaining table that it does not seek to stop freelancing and contract work.
The Guild understands that the Post and its readers have long benefited from such work. But the union also is searching for a mechanism to ensure that the company does not farm out work from paid staffers to an army of contributors who may be willing to write for no more than recognition – a media model pioneered by the Huffington Post. The issue of the Mercedes story came up only in the context that it was enormously successful online and might tempt ownership to shift the journalistic strategy toward more free content that generates a lot of page views. The union’s sole aim is to ensure that contractors, stringers and independent bloggers supplement – but do not supplant — the quality journalism created by its staff. Our argument here protects not only the jobs of staffers but also the brand of The Washington Post.
On another front, the Guild is pushing back against efforts by the company to undermine the union’s cohesion by claiming that people are exempt from the union when they clearly are not. We have demanded that the company identify employees who are truly managers, and therefore exempt from the union – and guess what? It turns out that more than one third of all employees are managers. Out of approximately 1,200 total employees, about 420 are exempt as management.
There has been progress on some other fronts:
• The Post has backed off a proposal to eliminate guaranteed levels of travel insurance coverage.
• The Post has agreed in principle to provide reporters access to digital metrics – a request the Guild has made at the last two rounds of contract talks.
• The Post has also agreed to include “gender identity” as a protected category in its non-discrimination provisions.
• The Post and the Guild have tentatively agreed that although the company may require some people to telecommute – an arrangement many employees have long asked for as a benefit – it will seek volunteers first. It also agreed to help with logistical arrangements to make it possible.
Finally, the Guild’s bargaining committee is fully committed to bargaining toward a fair contract. But members of its committee – including journalists and commercial employees who have volunteered their time to help the union – are also trying to balance negotiations with their professional duties.
–The Bargaining Committee
Here’s how to use this pension calculator.
- All of the inputs in the yellow boxes at the top are changeable (wages, current years of service, future years of service, wage growth assumption, etc), so you can see how different types of employees will fare.
- I calculated the benefits both as an annual annuity and as a one-time lump sum, so that the pension and cash balance could be compared on an “apples to apples” basis. (The conversion is not entirely accurate, it is a gross estimate based on a rule of thumb in the individual annuity market.)
- The bottom line is that the cash balance provides a lower benefit than the traditional pension, so virtually everyone hired before September 2009 will be worse off.
- CLICK LINK BELOW.
Some of you have expressed surprise, anger and regret to hear that the Post has ceased its 5-percent match to those
employees who chose to deposit that much of their pre-tax income into their 401(k) plans. Instead, the Post has reduced the 401(k) contribution to a maximum 1 percent dollar-to-dollar match of your salary and created a new retirement benefit, known as the Secure Retirement Account available, for all employees. The change became effective this month.
As sometimes happens, some Guild-covered employees have expressed displeasure toward the union for agreeing to this
proposal during the last round of bargaining talks more than a year ago. Some have also criticized us—rightly so, perhaps—for not doing enough to alert them about this change last year.
We’d like to address here the reasons why we agreed to the reduced match and the creation of the SRA.
At the last round of bargaining talks, the Post made several proposals that were highly damaging to Guild-covered employees (weakening progressive disciplinary procedures, job security, seniority, cutting severance pay in half, and others). In fact, the company is pushing many of these same union-busting proposals again.
Worse, they also want to slash the pension and other retirement benefits.
Faced with a similar situation at the 2013 bargaining table, the Guild accepted the lower 401 (k) match and the creation of an SRA partly to achieve compromise elsewhere.
But we also saw merit in the company’s proposed change, especially after consulting with Ilana Boivie, an economist who is an expert on retirement benefits and works for our union’s parent, the Communications Workers of America.
Why? Not everyone took advantage of the maximum 5-percent pretax contribution to the 401 (k). Some employees – particularly younger and lower-paid employees – made no 401(k) contribution at all.
In contrast, every employee receives an SRA. The SRA is a guaranteed investment unaffected by market swings. True, the
SRA is less likely to grow in bull markets and accumulate wealth than a 401(k) – particularly compared with people who made the largest voluntary contributions — but it is also unaffected by market declines.
In other words, there is less upside potential but also less downside risk from market variations. And, again, it would benefit everyone, not just those who contributed 5 percent.
As Ilana told us last year: “Overall, I do believe that employees should be better off under the new design of the SRA and lower 401k. Total company contribution rates are higher, and the SRA benefit is guaranteed. Also, employees can continue to make as many contributions to the 401k on their own as they like, up to the IRS limits.”
So the Guild agreed to this change partly because this is the sort of tradeoff that happens in bargaining talks to reach an overall agreement. But we also felt that the SRA proposal represented a beneficial outcome to the greatest number of our members.
The Guild is often faced with difficult choices and tradeoffs, and we are only as powerful as the people who belong to the union. With even more alarming proposals on the table, we need everyone now more than ever. We encourage you to become a dues-paying member, to become active, and join us in strengthening the Guild. To make progress in these talks,
all of us need to stand together and put pressure on management to alter its position.
If you haven’t heard by now, the Post once again dropped a bomb on the Guild at its first day of contract talks. The last time we went to the table, more than a year ago, we said the publisher might have put forward the most contemptuous proposal in memory.
We were wrong. We think this one is as bad, maybe even worse.
If you haven’t heard by now, the Post is proposing to freeze pension benefits for current employees and have no such pension at all for future employees. The Post, in other words, is taking yet another step toward the day when employees will be left with maybe a 401K and Social Security to see them through when they retire.
And that’s just on retirement.
Once again the Post is seeking to gut the union’s provisions on job security and move the company closer to the kind of place that could just hire and fire you at will, often based on the most subjective criteria. And it has again taken aims at provisions that threaten the union’s survival.
Please stay tuned here — the bargaining committee will post a more detailed bulletin soon with more information about the talks.
But, people, it’s time to decide where you stand.
Do you want to work for a place that recognizes not just a labor contract, but a social contract?
Do you want stand on the sidelines or do you want to stand up when an institution as special as The Washington Post wants to join the ranks of all those companies we editorialize about that have abandoned the middle class?
Do you want a union at one of the nation’s finest news organizations and a say in how your workplace operates? Or not?
The Washington Post announced large cuts in retirement benefits on Tuesday, declaring that it would eliminate future retirement medical benefits and freeze defined-benefit pensions for nonunion employees.
The company also said that in negotiations that started Tuesday, it will seek to impose the same conditions on employees covered by the union — one of the first indications of how The Post’s new owner, Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, will manage relations with the staff of the news organization.
The changes will hit hardest at employees hired before 2009 who could plan on receiving pension payments based on their income and years of service. Each of those employees could see scores — or hundreds — of thousands of dollars less over the course of a retirement. More recent hires do not have traditional pension plans.
The Post will create a new cash balance plan to replace the pensions for nonunion employees and a separate but similar plan for those covered by the union. Those plans provide employees with a lump sum or annuity when they retire. But they do not guarantee a particular level of retirement payments, thus reducing the risk that Bezos would have to add money to the pension if financial markets plunged.
In the next few weeks, the Guild Bargaining Committee will begin negotiating with Post management for a new contract. Your essential benefits, such as salary minimums, fair working hours, paid vacations and health care insurance, are the result of long negotiations between the Guild and management. We would like to hear from you as we develop contract proposals that address your needs. What follows is a survey asking you a range of questions. You will also be invited to suggest other topics or problems that need to be addressed. Please take a few minutes to complete this survey. The more information we have, the better our contract proposals can be. While we are not asking for your name, it will be helpful to know your department and the number of years you have worked at the Post. please complete your survey by SEPTEMBER 10.
Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.
Baltimore Sun Series on Problems at Veterans Affairs Department Wins Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Grand Prize
BALTIMORE—A comprehensive Baltimore Sun series on problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs – which ran months before the rest of the national media even discovered the story – won the Grand Prize for writing and reporting in 2013 from the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, at the Guild’s Front Page Awards ceremony.
The award judges were unanimous in their praise of the completeness, timeliness and quality of Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger’s “VA Falls Short Of Helping Vets” series, which also took the Guild’s Morton Mintz Award for Public Service Reporting.
Wenger will receive her honor, which includes a cash prize, at The Guild’s Front Page Awards ceremony, July 26 at St. Ignatius Church in downtown Baltimore, at 10 a.m. The other grand prize, for Photography, went to Sun photographer Algerina Perna for her picture story, “Linda’s Journey.” The grand prize also includes a cash prize. Perna’s pictures accompanied her feature story, with the same headline, which won that writing category.
The Sun, Catholic News Service and Bloomberg-Bureau of National Affairs dominated the awards. The Guild represents those publications, the Washington Post, and workers at 26 other newspapers, media outlets, union staffs, associations and magazines in Washington, Baltimore, York, Pa., Chicago and, in one case, worldwide.
Other Front Page winners and honorable mentions, among the 124 entries, were:
Sports Reporting: Mike Klingaman, Sun, “Beloved Player Known For His Grit And His Wit Went On To A Second Career As A Storyteller: Artie Donovan, 1994-2013.”
Feature Writing: Algerina Perna, Sun, “Linda’s Journey.”
Morton Mintz Award for Public Service Reporting: Yvonne Wenger, Sun, “VA Falls Short Of Helping Vets” series.
News Analysis: Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service, “To Frack Or Not To Frack.” Honorable mention: Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service, “The Economic And Moral Dimensions Of The Debt Ceiling Debate.”
Non-Daily Specialized Technical Reporting: Steven Burkholder, Bloomberg-BNA Correspondents, “Financial Reporting In Japan.” Honorable mention: Julie Steinberg, Bloomberg-BNA, “Primary Jurisdiction Argument Often Raised In Food Label Suits.”
National News Reporting: Kevin Rector, Yvonne Wenger, Carrie Wells, Sun, “Please Tell Me You’re OK.” Honorable mention: Yvonne Wenger, Sun, “Wage Theft On The Rise As Economy Flounders.”
Labor And Business Reporting: Meredith Cohn and Andrea K. Walker, Sun, “System Failure, Technixl Problems, Feuding Contractors. Those Issues – And More – Plagued The Launch Of Obamacare In Maryland.” Honorable mention: Meredith Cohn, Sun, “A Remedy And A Rebirth: Badly Wounded And Economically Drained By Scandal, St. Joseph Hospital Follows A Prescription For A New, Brighter Future.”
Criticism: Chris Kaltenbach, Sun, “Honesty, Insight Flow In Porterfield’s Latest Film.”
Local News Reporting: Justin Fenton, Justin George, Sun, “At Summer’s End, Weary City Grapples With The Toll.” Honorable mentions: Andrea K. Walker, Sun, “Approaching Birth, Preparing For Death,” and Ian Duncan, Sun, “Fall Of Online Drug Bazaar Began With Tip In Maryland.”
Picture Story: Algerina Perna, Sun, “Linda’s Journey.”
Sports Photography: Kim Hairston, Sun, “Taylor Cummings.”
Local News Photography: Karl Merton Ferron, Sun, “Nuns Heading For Mass.” Honorable mention: Algerina Perna, Sun, “From The Rooftops, Fire Fighters Battle.”
Portrait Photography: Amy Davis, Sun, “Hairspray.” Honorable mention: Kim Hairston, Sun, “Timothy Devine, The Waterman.”
Feature Photography: Kim Hairston, Sun, “Stepping High.”
Advertising Design: Michelle Schneider, Bloomberg-BNA, “Holiday Practices.”