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article imageNew York Times staffers stage walkout over contract dispute

By JohnThomas Didymus     Oct 9, 2012 in Business
New York - Staffers at the New York Times walked out Monday in protest of management's handling of contract negotiations on compensations and benefits. Employees have been working without a contract after the previous guild contract expired 18 months ago.
CBS New York reports that the negotiations cover issues such as wages, pension and health care. Employees are fighting moves to freeze pension plans and implement separate contracts for print and digital employees.
The Huffington Post reports that at 3:35 on Monday, about 375 to 400 employees staged a walkout in New York. Twenty-three staffers also walked out of the newspapers D.C. bureau.
Media Bistro reports that the staffers, who wore stickers that read “Believe us,” walked out of the entrance of the newspaper's headquarters on 40th Street in Midtown, up Eight Avenue and back through the entrance on 41st Street.
According to CBS News, the walkout lasted 10 minutes.
Media Bistro reports that columnist Michael Powell, said: We’re trying to save the essence of The New York Times."
The walkout follows a meeting of 200 staffers in which they discussed collective action in response to the stalemate in ongoing negotiations with management. According to Media Bistro, Powell, commenting on the stalemate, said: “It’s not in keeping with their historic practice, which is to value the people who put out their newspaper, from the secretaries to the photographers… It’s beneath them.”
The Huffington Post reports that on 8 October, Grant Glickson, unit chair for the Newspaper Guild of New York at the Times, emailed a memo (see full text below) to employees detailing further action. Part of the memo read:
"Today we begin a series of actions to make sure that the company hears and understands our position. We have more than earned fair wages and benefits. We will accept nothing less... It is time to raise our voices."
According to CBS New York, the "actions" include employees signing a letter to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., executive editor Jill Abramson, and incoming CEO Mark Thompson, that lists the demands from the company that the guild described as "untenable and destructive."
The letter said: "We implore you: do not permit The New York Times to be steered any closer to this abyss."
Mediaite reports the letter asked the leadership to “step back from this corrosive, needless crisis,” in which staffers were being subjected to “major cuts to [their] wages and benefits” while “working seven days a week, around the clock.”
The letter read:
“We urge you: step back from this corrosive, needless crisis. Consider the relief that The Times has already won in these talks. Reflect on the revelations of this past decade. It wasn't luck or brand legacy that allowed this great institution to make the transition to a digital era during an economic collapse. It was the people of The Times, working seven days a week, around the clock.”
Media Bistro reports Powell said: “People work at sometimes great threat to their lives to put out this great newspaper, and we’re hoping that management will be the equal of the people that work for it, give people an honest wage and preserve the benefits for which they fought so hard over the many years.”
More than 600 people signed the letter.
The Huffington Post reports that the walkout is not the first time that New York Times employees have protested the proposed contract terms. Earlier in the year, employees protested outside a meeting of newspaper's top editors. They also staged a protest outside the company's annual shareholders meeting and released a series of videos in which they aired their grievances.
According to CBS New York, the guild is complaining that after taking off $3 million from the budget for health care contributions, the company added only 0.5 percent to 1-percent wage increases they agreed to implement. The guild also complains that other contributions to the health care fund were far below industry standard.
Negotiations are expected to resume Tuesday, CBS News reports.
The Huffington Post provides the full text of the Guild's memo to employees:
8 October 2012
There is no longer any time to waste.
At every bargaining session for the last year and a half, negotiators for The Times have offered us the same poisoned chalice: perpetually shrinking compensation.
Today we begin a series of actions to make sure that the company hears and understands our position. We have more than earned fair wages and benefits. We will accept nothing less.
That message has not yet gotten through, despite huge concessions by our representatives. It is time to raise our voices.
Having been told that The Times urgently needed to freeze pension obligations, the Guild brought to the table an alternative plan that absolves the company of all volatility, and shifts the risks entirely to us.
How did the company respond to this historic change? Its negotiators returned with radical demands to slash our wages and benefits. Their early proposals called for an overall $12,000 annual cut, in real dollars, to our compensation package.
Then it got worse.
In their latest proposal, The Times proposed to extend the term of the contract, piling on additional years of reduced wages and benefits. That would make the new real cost to each one of us at least $15,000 annually. Other responsible estimates reckon that the losses to us are even higher. No matter how hard you squint at the numbers, they never get better.
As far as the eye can see, your wages and benefits would decline.
By itself, that is a formula for disaster, for us as individuals, and for the ability of The New York Times to attract and keep talented people. But there’s even more. Now they want – or so they say – separate contracts for digital and print journalists, even though there are no longer meaningful distinctions in the work we do. Our journalism is distributed across multiple platforms, print, digital, audio and video. That was and (we think) still is the vision of Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. for The New York Times of the 21st Century. It was a vision embraced without reservation throughout the newsroom. That took plenty of work. But we all saw it as necessity and opportunity.
Any proposal to dismantle the decade of work that has been done to unify the newsroom, securing its place as the world’s premier news organization, could be laughed off as far-fetched legal gimmickry. After all, that would be an act of self-immolation. But even if it’s not worth serious consideration, it has landed just we are heading at full speed toward a crisis over genuine issues like our pay and benefits.
They threaten to declare impasse; they burn up hours on low-farce; then they slap down another version of their repugnant demands to cut our compensation.
It is long past time for the company and its negotiators to pay attention to what matters most of all to us. Together, we can make sure that happens. Join in, as beginning today, we will repeat our message until they hear it:
Nothing less than fair wages and benefits.
Believe us.
Here is the schedule of events for the next two days.
Monday Noon: Deadline to sign the letter to Arthur, Jill and Mark. It’s More than 600 people have already signed on. Make sure that people who may have not been paying attention take a look at it.
Monday, 3:35 PM: A group will be leaving the building en masse for a few minutes. Here are the instructions.
* By 3:35 PM, be at the Pulitzer staircase in the center of the newsroom on your floor. NB: This does not mean leave your desk at 3:35. It means be there by 3:35.
* If you work above the fourth floor, come to the fourth floor by 3:35 pm.
* As the people on the fourth floor come down, those on the third floor will join them and walk to the second floor.
* At the second floor, the remaining people will join the crowd from the upper floor, and we will all be guided to the building exits by floor marshals.
* At street level, other colleagues will have a (very short) statement on stickers for us to wear back to our desks.
* We will exit onto 40th Street and walk up Eighth Avenue to the 41st Street lobby entrance, and then return back to our desks.
If you grab a cup of coffee from the third floor wagon, be sure your sticker is in plain sight.
Please note: This is not a job action. We want you to participate if you have flexibility in your work schedule that permits a 10 or 15 minute break at 3:35. Please plan your day accordingly. If you are unable to join the group, colleagues will bring back stickers.
Tuesday morning, 10 AM: Negotiations resume at Proskauer Rose, the company’s law firm. Our negotiating team has kept up a back-breaking schedule, and they deserve our support. Please sign up as an observer.
Don’t sit it out!
And don’t stop until they get the message.
In solidarity,
The Mobilization Committee
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