During last week’s negotiations, the Guild and the Rockford Register Star/Freeport Journal Standard were able to come to terms on a number of issues. One such issue was the settlement of the Unfair Labor Practice charges that the Guild filed late last year and which were headed for an April hearing at the National Labor Relations Board sub region office in Peoria. Those charges were settled amicably along with some other issues as well.
Newsroom reorganization was addressed and the Guild signed off on numerous proposed schedule changes the company had requested with two caveats:
- No one will be required to work a split shift unless a department emergency exists as defined by management. Anyone who is required to work a split shift will be paid $20 differential for the day. Anyone who requests to work a split shift or schedules their day as such will not be paid the differential.
- While the number of people required to work weekends will increase, the paper has agreed that, as they come on board, newly hired journalists will be inserted into and share equally in the weekend rotation to reduce the number of weekend days Guild members must work (there was also talk of new hires possibly only having part of a weekend off to help alleviate that matter).
This takes effect immediately, btw.
Agreed-upon issues taking immediate effect is not that common during bargaining. Typically, things are tentatively agreed to (or “TA’d”) and collected. Then, when all issues have been settled, they comprise what becomes the new contract. A ratification vote is set and, if approved by the membership, the contract is signed and goes into effect.
Part of the reason things are happening now is because the paper wants the newsroom changes to occur as soon as possible, as they believe this will give them what they need to be successful. And this seems like the ideal time to state – clearly and unambiguously – what we hope everyone understands and that is that this union wants your paper to succeed. In fact, we want it to be wildly successful. Anyone with any sense understands that our fates are intertwined. However, the Guild also believes that such success needs to be rewarded with fair pay and working conditions.
Another immediate change concerns Grievance and Arbitration language which the parties negotiated in late 2013. Like the schedule changes, this will no longer wait for the entire contract to be negotiated and ratified before taking effect, which means someone with a complaint – or who perhaps was disciplined – can now grab a Guild Steward (more about that in a minute) and file a grievance. And, if that grievance is not settled to their and the union’s satisfaction, the decision can be appealed and the parties will appear before a third party neutral, whose ruling shall be binding (details about all this will be distributed by your unit officers).
Having the ability to enter into arbitration to settle differences is huge and offers our members a level of protection on the job that they’ve not had before. Obviously we hope that things never get to that point and that such safeguards are not needed or utilized. But having such a system in place goes a long way in making sure workers are treated fairly and equitably.
We also TA’d Security language, which states that “management will provide fair treatment to all employees and provide coaching that is prompt, uniform and impartial.” It provides for progressive discipline, just cause and the guarantee that employees past infractions cannot be used against them if they’ve gone 24 months without a repeat offense.
There was also an agreement on the scope of the bargaining unit and Union Business. We agreed to having five stewards – two of which are to be permanently affixed to the Unit Chair and Vice Chair positions. That leaves three – two to be elected from the workers at the Rockford Register Star and one from the Freeport Journal Standard – and we will soon announce a unit meeting to hold nominations for those steward positions. If there is the same number of nominations as positions, those nominated will assume the office of steward. If there are more nominations than positions, an election by secret ballot will be held at that same meeting.
Following steward elections, this Local will set a date to conduct joint steward training with all our Illinois bargaining units. The city, date and time for that training has yet to be decided.
These are hopeful times. While GateHouse seems to have turned a corner by announcing its strong financial position, a new atmosphere seems to have settled over our bargaining table. Here’s to that continuing and to both parties working together to secure a brighter future for us all.