The San Jose Mercury News and the union representing reporters, photographers, editors, and advertising staff reached a tentative contract agreement this morning that will save more than forty jobs. However, MediaNews, the company that owns the Merc, the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times and several other Bay Area dailies still plans to eliminate 27.5 full-time equivalent union positions tonight and tomorrow morning at the Merc. It’s not clear how many non-union jobs the company still plans to cut this week. The company originally announced that it would slash 101 total Merc positions, of which 69 were union-represented, including forty from the newsroom.
The tentative deal was reached after a twenty-hour bargaining session that ended at 7:45 a.m. today. In exchange for the reduced layoffs, the union – the San Jose Newspaper Guild – agreed to allow the company to assign some work currently done by Merc staffers to lower-paid employees at other MediaNews papers. But the company promised that the reassigned work would not result in more layoffs at the Merc. MediaNews also vowed to not lay off any more Merc staffers at least until July 1, 2007.
MediaNews also promised to give each union worker a $1,000 signing bonus to offset increased healthcare costs, plus a4 percent raise spread over two years. The company also dropped its demand for a two-tiered wage system where newly hired journeymen reporters at the Merc would make only $43,000 annually compared to about $60,000 under the old contract.
Here is a memo from the guild about the new tentative deal, which still must be approved by the rank and file:
San Jose Newspaper Guild Bargaining Bulletin #15
December 4, 2006
After a 20-hour bargaining session that ended at 7:45 a.m. this morning, the Guild and the Mercury News reached a tentative agreement on a new two-year contract.
As a result, the company will reduce its number of Guild layoffs from 69 to 27.51 full-time equivalent positions. The layoffs will be announced tonight and tomorrow. As part of the agreement, the company will guarantee no further layoffs in the bargaining unit at least through June 30, 2007.
The Guild will allow 45 jobs to be moved to the new San Ramon center from finance and the classified call center. Affected individuals will have the option of taking a buy-out for two weeks pay for every year of service, capped at 10 weeks, and two months of paid health care. The company said it expects the finance jobs to move in March and the call center to move in June, at the earliest.
The agreement provides 2 percent wage increases in each year (divided into 1.5 percent and .5 percent roughly every six months) and a $1,000 signing bonus for members (pro-rated for part-timers). The signing bonus is designed to ease the transition to a new health plan, in which members will be paying about 20 percent of premiums for Blue Cross plans and 30 percent for Kaiser. Current part-timers working more than 18.75 hours a week will be grandfathered for coverage; future part-timers will have to work 30 hours for coverage. Current retirees also will be grandfathered with access to health plans if they pay the full premiums.
The pension plan will be frozen and replaced with a 401K matching contribution of up to 3 percent if an employee contributes 6 percent.
Guild members will use their vacation accrued in 2006 in 2007 and not accrue any vacation during that year. Beginning in 2008, vacation will be on an “earn-as-you-go” basis, meaning you earn vacation in the same year you take it.
The company will be able to coordinate news coverage and advertising sales with other MediaNews papers and take content from those publications. A new jurisdiction provision will provide that use of such content shall not result in layoffs in the bargaining unit.
Among the major demands dropped by the company in the final hours were the elimination of the contract’s “evergreen clause,” which keeps the contract in effect after expiration in the event a new agreement has not been reached; a two-tier wage system; a broad “management rights” clause; and a 40-hour workweek.
The terms, including the first pay increase of 1.5 percent, would go into effect after ratification. A ratification meeting date has not yet been scheduled. The contract term would end Oct. 31, 2008.
Although the company had set a Nov. 30 deadline for reaching a new deal in order to reduce the number of layoffs, and talks broke off that day, Executive Editor Susan Goldberg and SJ Newspaper Guild President Becky Bartindale initiated an informal discussion Friday morning that eventually led to the agreement.
More details will be available in the coming days.
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