Cleveland Plain Dealer union gets new deal that protects staff from future layoffs, raises pay 8%

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has reached a new, tentative six-year agreement with the Guild’s bargaining committee. The new agreement offers some protections to the 58 people to be laid off next year and offers more protection to the employees who stay. The agreement also sheds some light on Advance’s plans for Cleveland publishing.

The layoffs were announced separately earlier this week and are not subject to negotiation. They will reduce the 168 Guild members in the newsroom by about one-third.

But the bargaining committee was able to limit future layoffs. “They had wanted to add a provision that allowed them to lose four [Guild] members a year through the length of the contract through attribution or layoffs,” Harlan Spector, chairman of the newspaper’s unit of the Northeast Ohio Newspaper Guild, said by phone Thursday night. “That could have been four layoffs a year for five years. … We gave them the right to lay off up to 5 in 2014 but then we’re done, everybody is protected after that.”

The new agreement also provides a wage “snapback,” reversing part of a 12 percent pay cut that started in 2009 in exchange for job security. “Under the new agreement, the company would restore a little more than 8 percent of that after the layoffs. The other part is made up of furlough days, and those days remain.”

The new agreement also provides additional health care to the people who are laid off, as well as a lump sum option, as long as they also agree not to sue the company or file an employment complaint, Spector said.

Will the Plain Dealer reduce print or delivery?

The company’s future plans for the paper were not subject to negotiation, said Spector, so there is no indication whether Advance plans to reduce print days as it has in Michigan, New Orleans, Alabama and soon in Pennsylvania and New York. It’s also possible the paper will print seven days a week but reduce home delivery days.

One clue to the company’s plans was in the negotiation over Cleveland.com.

“We had an agreement that gave the Guild the right to produce the content for Cleveland.com,” Spector said. The paper wanted to “take down the wall” between the print and digital products. The Guild agreed, which means that non-Guild employees can be hired for Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer can use Cleveland.com material in print.

“They can use anything they want,” Spector said. “If they ask readers to send in their favorite Christmas stories they can do that.”

In the long-run, this gives Advance greater latitude to hire less experienced journalists for less pay with different skills for its website, and then use that material in its print product. The staff cuts save money, not reduced print days, according to an analysis done by Rick Edmonds.

“A big part of that is we’ve given them some language that could, over the years, really diminish our numbers,” Spector said. “It gives them the ability to put cheap content in the paper.”

“It doesn’t bode well for a 7-day a week paper, but if they’re able to use copy coming in from God knows where from Cleveland.com, they could fill the paper,” Spector said. “I don’t know if these job cuts would preclude them from being able to publish seven days a week. It kind of depends what they’re putting out.”

Will the agreement be ratified?

The current agreement expires January 31, 2013.

Members are scheduled to vote on the new agreement Tuesday, Dec. 11. If they do not ratify the agreement, “the company says 80 or more journalists — at least half of the current staff — will be let go next year.”

The new agreement, Spector said, is “a bitter pill but it beats the alternative.”

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