Rockford Register Star Bargaining Update

Proposals and counter proposals went back and forth during our two days of bargaining on March 14 and 15. We presented GateHouse with a comprehensive proposal addressing outstanding issues, including pay, health insurance, maternity leave, time off and mileage reimbursement.

We were hoping to reach compromise with GateHouse on multiple outstanding issues and reach tentative agreements on these matters. However, the company left after rejecting our third proposal during the two-day session.

Some concerning developments arose during this session.

The GateHouse negotiator said the increase in paid time off days, given to nonunion employees not long after our last bargaining session in November, was meant “to address retention.”

He calculated out that the seven additional days given to non-union employees carried a value of a 2.7% raise. He called it “free money” because employees would be paid and not have to work those days. He voiced the company’s position that management does not want to give parity with non-union employees by giving those seven days plus a pay increase (even after more than eight years without ANY raises).

So we countered by saying that we didn’t want the extra days off and would, instead, take an immediate 2.7% raise (they kept saying the extra days off were “like a raise” – – after we did this, they said “it’s not like a raise!”) since the seven extra days off in question were  not listed by the company as a one-year occurrence.  But the company’s representatives were not willing to talk about raises of any kind and would not, alternatively, give our members the seven paid days off that non-union employees already have been granted.

In the lengthy section called “Management Rights,” we were willing to agree to the wording ­ which GateHouse wants – with two slight additions – a mere 30 words stating that the company cannot discriminate against an employee because of his or her union activity nor use the Management Rights clause to evade any other provision in the contract (once it is finished and ratified). It’s pretty tame stuff, actually.  The GateHouse negotiator called this “insulting.”

Apparently insulting employees is quite acceptable, though.

The union also proposed adding a provision, which already is in use at another Guild-represented GateHouse paper.  That provision states that female employees who go out on maternity leave will be able to return to their former assignment when they return from their leave. This would prevent women from being penalized just for going on maternity leave; making sure no woman is removed from a plum beat or one that they really love simply because they choose to give birth.  This, unfortunately, happens at far too many newspapers.  At many papers, female journalists are only guaranteed they will keep their job (reporter) but not their assignment (or “beat”) that they have spent so much time working and developing.  It can (and often does) lead to mixed feelings when a female journalist is pregnant.  Male journalists suffer no such indignity and our proposed language addressed that inequality.

The GateHouse negotiator said that women who go out on maternity leave have a medical disability and he likened the experience to when he tore his Achilles heel. He said that Rockford Register Star Executive Editor Mark Baldwin opposes our proposal to restore a beat to the employee upon her return from maternity leave, saying that Baldwin told him “this is a talent business” and management will give these beats to others based on the substituted reporter’s talent (but, for the life of me, I can’t understand how a female employee loses her “talent” after giving birth).

During this back-and-forth, the Guild even offered to include the company’s sought-after provision stating management has the right to determine the frequency of publication. Yet, despite our willingness to move in the employer’s direction, management was still unwilling to agree to our proposed maternity leave language and GateHouse representatives walked away from two rather large provisions the were seeking.  What’s going on here?  Are these people just the ultimate control freaks?  Do they actually want to be able to control every single aspect of your life – including the deeply personal ones?  Or do they just not respect women and the contributions they make?

Your union remains committed to bargaining for a fair and equitable contract for both sides and hopes that there will be terms upon which the parties can agree when we return to the bargaining table on April 25.