Saturday, August 02, 2008

"No Go" tiations!

First, I apologize for the delay in getting this information posted, so let's get started. The latest negotiations which took place on Wednesday July 30th and Thursday July 31st were expected to be very productive on our part, considering where we left off previously. We had essentially felt that a positive dialog had begun and presumed that we would both negotiate from a "mutual interest" point of view.

We began at the table Wednesday morning by receiving the company's reponse to our information request pertaining to the recent "Hybrid" merit raises given to non-union production employees. The legal jargon we've been given in response to previous requests was again being recycled in this response as if it is memorized and put on a rubber stamp for convienience. That being said, our Legal Representatives will review their written response and instruct our Rep's Sonny and Mike as to how we should proceed on this subject. Any wage increase we propose will include that it be retroactive to raises currently being given.

We have expressed an opposition to merit based wage increases from the very beginning because of the evaluation process that is used to determine the eligibilty of an employee to recieive an increase, and the amount of an individual's potential increase based on his or her evaluation. We believe everyone will agree that this process has proven to cater to favortism and also believe you would agree that a "general" wage increase across the board is the only fair method of implementing a wage increase.

As we had previously discussed at the table, and agreed to, Sonny and I, along with the company's representives, Tim Fair and Russ met in "side bar" off the record, thus I cannot devulge the actual conversations that took place during this procedure. Without giving any details of the conversation, Sonny and I listened to items the company considered "deal breakers" and they simply would not consider agreeing to. We listened closely to their concerns and feel that we were willing give some ground to move the negotiations forward and show good faith. This procedure took the better part of Wednesday, and Sonny and I both left the side bar feeling that it was extremely productive and looked forward to getting back to the table, and back on record.

Thursday's negotiations began early with much anticipation. Seniority was an issue we discussed in previous negotiations and felt we were getting close to an agreement at that time. In the final hour, the company decided they would propose to classify each position and in the event of staffing reductions, the lowest seniority pressperson in a specific classification would be laid off first. We said we would agree to that concept if they would agree to "bumping rights" which would allow a senior pressperson who's job classification experiences a reduction in staffing to bump someone with less seniority outside of that classification, thus resulting in the last man in, first man out. Their pat answer of "we're not interested" and their unwillingness to agree to reverse seniority without classification caused this subject to be set aside.

Sonny felt that this topic (seniority) was a good place to begin on Thursday morning and would also be used to gauge the company's movement in the negotiations in general, simply because this issue does not have an economic impact on the company one way or another.
We have stood fast on the principle of reverse seniority in the event of staffing reductions. The company representatives have sought to layoff and recall according to skills and ability.
The problem with their approach, like merit raises, allows for favortism. Another concern of our's with this concept is, who will be responsible for determining one's skills and abilities?
Management? Supervision? Sam Zell? Again favortism surfaces.

We prepared and presented a "package proposal" giving the company the "management rights" they sought with the inclusion of language that would prevent their mgt. rights from superceeding the agreements contained in the contract. In exchange we were asking for seniority language which included reverse seniority in the event of staffing reductions, union security, which requires union membership to work in our shops, and dues check off, requiring the company to deduct union dues from members payroll and forward those dues to the local.
Remember, all union dues are tax deductable and we don't pay dues until we ratify a contract.

Our package proposal was rejected, and the company presented a counter proposal in which they sought to protect up to 15 individuals they deemed "high performers" they would like to retain in the event of layoffs. This number amounted to 6% of the 248 workforce employed in the pressrooms. Our first reaction was, again, favortism will flourish under this concept. Sonny challenged their number of 15 and used a hypothetical layoff of 20 individuals and illustrated that if they could protect 15 of the 20, they would actually receive 75% protection for their favorites from being laid off. There was no way we would even consider this and counter proposed, for the purpose of moving forward, a 1 in 20 ratio that would allow them to protect 1 in 20 if a layoff were to occur. So in order for them to save 1 of their high perfomers, a minimum of 20 individuals would have to be targeted for layoff. If 39 positions are being eliminated, they would still only be able to protect 1 high performer.

Another section of their proposal contained new language which would essentially strip the union of it's "jurisdiction" and allow the company to bring in any one they choose to run our presses without them having to join the Teamsters. The extreme danger of this language would also allow the company to send our work outside the buliding to other workers without recourse. This language was introduced, once again, in the final hour mucking up the progress we had felt we were making. Sonny became very irate with the company representatives for attempting to introduce this language knowing that this would be highly scrutinized and rejected by our side of the table. The company came with another counter proposal eliminating the protections for high performers, and gave us reverse seniority, but was not interested in removing the language that trampled on the unions jurisdiction. This package proposal by the company was made with the stipulation that if rejected, it would be retracted. Sonny accused them of intentionally throwing a wrench in the process by doing so and broke off negotiations for the day.

Sonny, Mike, President Tedeschi and our Legal Team in Washington will review our last proposal and the company's as well, and determine how to proceed. I trust they will hammer out a plan that will put our negotiations on the track it needs to be on to achieve our goal of negotiating a "fair" collective bargaining agreement. Stand fast and be patient, we'll can get there together, in solidarity!

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