Our members at the Detroit News, Free Press and Observer & Eccentric/Hometownlife are fighting for a fair contract. Gannett, the owner of the Free Press and O&E and majority partner in the Joint Operating Agreement with the Detroit News, is refusing to invest in their employees or engage in fair and reasonable bargaining.
Company Moving Away from an Agreement : The company widens the scope of bargaining to include the modification/elimination of healthcare and pension plans. Still refuses wage increases.
April 18, 2022
Representatives of the Guild met with representatives of Gannett, MediaNews Group, the Detroit News, Free Press and Observer & Eccentric and instead of making progress forward, management has decided to take a huge step back.
Prior to this meeting, the scope of the issues on the table were limited. Now, the company has put the possible modification or elimination of our National Employees Healthcare plans and Free Press’ Taft-Hartley, defined benefit pension plan back on the table. We anticipate that Detroit News’ pension plan will also be on the table, but is not official at this point. We are also exploring and continuing to research the O&E Retirement plan.
When we last met in 2020, the company had proposed moving all members from our current health plan to the Gannett sponsored plans on a “same as” basis. The Gannett plans are all high deductible plans that have exorbitant out-of-pocket cost to the members. The Free Press pension plan is one of the healthiest plans of its size in the country. It is over 100% funded and costs the company very little to operate. There is no reason for the company to approach freezing or eliminating the plan.
The Guild’s position is that there is no need to expand the scope of the proposals. Frankly, the company’s move to add more key issues to the table is a statement of their intention to destroy all of your strong, union benefits. Along with these key issues, the company has proposed degrading our contract through incorporating company policies on cell phones, reimbursements, bereavement leave, and soon to be healthcare. The Guild stated that our members value an agreement that is collectively bargained and that is in writing. When a company policy is in the contract, it gives the company full discretion. Any and all parts of it could be changed at any time.
Both the Free Press and News spoke and said that they value their employees and that they hope we can reach an agreement. Although, Gannett’s straight-out refusal to invest in their employees says otherwise. We must continue our fight and it is about to get larger. When we were just asking for a reasonable wage increase the company responded by proposing what would be further wage reductions due to the large increase in out-of-pocket healthcare costs.
Egregious Proposal with No Wage Increases– It’s Time to Fight Back
April 18, 2022
The Guild joint bargaining committee met with representatives of the Free Press, Detroit News, and Observer & Eccentric Wednesday and received their response to our February 9th proposal.
What we received was an egregious proposal that amounts to a straight-up refusal to invest in their employees. Gannett proposed a two-year agreement that can be reopened after the first year by either party. They included no across-the-board wage increases and instead proposed a $750 signing bonus and a $750 anniversary bonus on the second year.
The company explained these proposals by saying that the industry is too unstable, they cannot commit to long-term agreements and that they are unwilling to give across-the-board wage increases. They feel that their bonuses are a substantial investment and that on top of their arbitrary merit raise system and bonuses, our members have gotten enough.
The Guild strongly disagrees with this. To begin, we feel that the industry and Gannett have stabilized enough to invest in their employees and make a longer term commitment. In the last year, all three newsrooms have been told that they are doing very well in a variety of ways. Gannett instituted a $100 million share buy back program, and has steadily been decreasing their debt load.
Secondly, the Guild has found that only a small percentage of members ever receives a merit increase or bonus, leaving the vast majority without anything over the last four years. Their proposed bonus, which will be substantially less after taxes, will not offer any true financial relief. We countered their wage proposal with a three-year agreement with a 3% increase in year one, 2.75% increase in year two and a 2.5% increase in year three.
On top of this, the company has proposed to company cell phones and move everyone to using their personal cell phones and receiving the $50 monthly stipend. If you have a company phone, once your contract ends you will either give up the phone or you can buy it from the carrier. They proposed to increase the number of exemptions to seniority from 13 to 27. The Guild rejects these proposals and are holding the line at our current language on cell phones and exemptions to seniority.
We are scheduling the next session and plan to meet with the company as soon as possible. In the meantime, we need everyone to step up. It is clear that Gannett has no intention of being a quality employer and treating its employees with the respect and dignity they deserve. We will have to fight every cent out of their greedy hands and we can only do it together. Throughout the next weeks leading up to the Free Press Film Festival we are going to be having regular actions and we need everyone to get involved.
Across-the-board wages are the priority
February 9, 2022
Your Guild bargaining committee met Wednesday with representatives from Gannett, the Free Press, Observer & Eccentric, and The Detroit News. We began by reviewing our bargaining history and the economic situation.
We have not had a wage increase since February 2018 and we have sacrificed for the companies. In 2009, both Gannett and Media News Group showed us their financial situation was dire. We gave up our 2009 contractual wage increase and agreed to a pay freeze until 2013. By 2018, we were finally restored to 2008 wages. Then we took furloughs in 2020 to support the companies in the pandemic. We continue to be flexible, navigate the new work environment and do more with less.
Gannett has stabilized financially and is thriving. Detroit’s three papers say they are meeting goals for subscriptions and clicks and are contributing to Gannett’s overall success. We said while the newspapers’ owners are healthy, we are still coping with the sacrifices we made as well as the higher cost of living and higher healthcare costs. We said we need an across-the-board wage increase now and for years to come because we deserve a piece of the companies’ success and an investment in us.
We proposed a contract that gives us stability, focuses on preserving current benefits and secures wage increases. We want a three-year agreement with a 3% across-the-board wage increase each year.
We proposed increasing bereavement leave for immediate family members by two days. We want three days of bereavement leave for aunts and uncles. We also asked Juneteenth to be a paid holiday.
Other proposals included: Modifying overtime and comp time language in The Detroit News contract to allow comp time for all hours worked over 40 hours; increasing the mileage rate for Observer & Eccentric members from 36 cents per mile to the IRS rate and adding them to the Gannett 401(k) plan with employer match (they currently get no retirement contribution from the company); and discussing downtown parking and using the DayForce system to track comp time. All other contract language will remain unchanged.
We feel our proposal reflects our needs but remains modest and realistic. We hope Gannett and Media News Group come to the table in the same spirit so we may reach an agreement.