New York Times management says it wants unified contract, like Guild

A day after the Newspaper Guild of New York told members that New York Times management “dropped a bomb” by proposing separate contracts for print and digital employees, management is sending its own message: We’d prefer a single, unified contract if the Guild will agree to our terms.

In a note sent Tuesday, the Guild said “management’s dual-contract demand apparently is a legal maneuver to preserve its option to declare the talks at ‘impasse’ – a rarely used draconian move that would enable management to impose its ‘last, best’ contract offer on members.”

Steve Myers explains:

Until now, both sides have been working toward a single contract to replace the two agreements that expired in March 2011. The process has been complicated because the digital contract is less generous than the print one, and the company wants the union to agree to terms closer to that contract. About 1,000 employees are covered by the print contract; 100 by the digital one.

Here’s the letter that the company sent Wednesday afternoon to its employees:

Colleagues:

In recent weeks, the pace of contract negotiations with the Guild has picked up, and we have made some important progress. Following up on an idea that began with Guild negotiators, we are working toward a shared solution on the future of the union’s pension plan.  And yesterday, the company put on the table a proposal that would – for the first time ever – provide Guild members an annual bonus tied to the company’s financial performance.

Yet an important issue remains unresolved. Are we negotiating, together with the Guild, a single contract that unifies the print and digital operations of our newsroom, as has been our clear preference from the outset? Or might we end up in the same place we are now, with two separate contracts for print and digital employees?

Let’s be clear. We want a unified contract – it is the only way forward that makes sense for our journalism and our business. But the fact is we cannot get there unless the Guild agrees.

And while Guild negotiators have intimated that they too want a unified contract, when we asked them yesterday to explicitly commit to negotiate a single contract that erases the increasingly irrelevant distinctions between our print and digital journalism, they refused.

So with the negotiations already in their 18th month, and the company adamant that we need a contract that resolves the pension question by year-end, we took a step that acknowledges the current reality: if the union will not agree to negotiate the unified contract we need, the two sides may end up where we are – with two separate contracts.

We put on the table documents that reflect ALL of the potential outcomes of our negotiations. First, a document proposing the combined contract – the one that is our preference – uniting the separate print and digital units. And second, documents that would effectively continue the unwieldy two-contract structure.

While we can make either circumstance work, we would – once again – much prefer a single unified contract that reflects the reality of a 21st Century newsroom.

Both proposals do incorporate, as much as possible, the progress made so far in the months of negotiations we have had with the Guild.

In labor negotiations, like many things, the path to a desirable outcome is not always a straight or bright line.  But the outcome we want is clear, and we continue to hope the Guild will join us in working toward a single unified contract for both print and digital employees.

Both sides have a way to go, but we are greatly encouraged by the flexibility the Guild has shown on the pension issue in recent weeks. We have every hope that we can, working together, reach a contract settlement in the near future and get back to focusing on the world-class work that only New York Times journalists — Guild and excluded working together — can do.

Terry L. Hayes
Senior Vice President, Operations and Labor
The New York Times Media Group

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