Post-Dispatch unit sets priorities for bargaining

The United Media Guild’s Post-Dispatch unit held its first meeting to set objectives for our upcoming bargaining for a new contract. Wages, advertising commission/bonus plans, health care, layoff procedure and parking were among the key topics.

Our contract expires Sept. 30, but it remains in effect through its “evergreen clause” while we negotiate with the company.

Lee Enterprises has indicated it might be willing to engage in expedited bargaining on limited issues, as we did on the previous contract. As UMG unit chair Joe Holleman noted during our meeting, it’s possible we could go that route again.

But that would depend on what the company’s issues are. Before choosing expedited bargaining, UMG leaders would hold another unit meeting to discuss our options with members and allow them to guide our course.

Thus far the company has given little indication of what its issues are. The UMG is making its standard pre-bargaining information request to Lee Enterprises and we expect to learn more shortly.

It would be our preference to negotiate a contract sooner than later and without the acrimony that engulfed our bargaining with GateHouse Media — which has featured workplace actions, radio advertising campaigns, public protests, reader and advertiser outreach, a successful shareholder motion, a vote of no-confidence for the board of GateHouse’s parent company and a Strategic Industry Fund grant from CWA to conduct a coordinated campaign against that company.

Here are our top concerns, as defined by our members:

Wages: While the previous Post-Dispatch contract included three 2 percent raises to our pay scales, that only restored earlier cuts to the scale. So we are back to where we were in our 2004-2009 contract — minus inflation, of course. Because we have far fewer people working at the Post-Dispatch, surviving employees are more critical to the operation. In most cases individuals are doing more work with much less support.

Advertising sales: Our members are concerned about the goal-setting process and the punitive shifting of accounts and/territories. Additionally, there are concerns about supervisors and non-union salespersons selling into accounts managed by Guild salespersons.

Health insurance premiums/plan design: Members relying on insurance through Lee Enterprises keep paying more out of pocket for health care. We need to limit those increases and offset them with compensation increases.

Layoff procedure: UMG was willing to give the company a number of “skips” to exempt certain employees from seniority consideration during a layoff. As the newsroom got smaller, so did the company’s number of skips, as spelled out in our contract language. But given the small number of surviving employees, we believe that number should be smaller still.

Parking: With the sale of the Post-Dispatch building, we are becoming tenants. Members are concerned they will their lose free parking. Paid parking could amount to a pay cut, if it’s not accounted for in the next contract. Also, our members are concerned that shifting parking to more distant lots would create a safety hazard.