After more than six years without a contract, negotiations between The Commercial Appeal and the Newspaper Guild of Memphis appear to be winding down, according to Guild representatives.
Last month, the CA's bargaining team put what was described as its "final offer" on the table, a proposal that included a 4 percent employee raise the first year, a 3 percent raise the second, and a 2 percent raise the third.
"That might seem like good news, especially in a weak economy," said CA reporter and Guild president Daniel Connolly. "But the bad news is that the company wants the right to ... outsource everything. And a 4 percent raise on a salary of zero is zero."
The Guild's now-expired contract, which has remained in effect due to an evergreen clause, allows the newspaper to outsource any job but ensures that employees cannot be replaced by outsourcing. The CA's latest offer would give management the right to fire any employee and outsource any job.
The CA has seen numerous layoffs in recent years, as the newspaper's parent company, E.W. Scripps Co., has engaged in a steady process of outsourcing and consolidation.
Already, workers in India design some of the ads that appear in the newspaper and perform accounting work.
The Scripps chain also is centralizing its copy editing and design operations, an area the Guild sees as particularly vulnerable to outsourcing. Those areas have been hit hardest by layoffs, and the Guild believes that those positions haven't been outsourced yet because of the current contract.
Though the Guild has yet to craft a formal response to the offer, it is working to educate the public about what the final offer could mean for newspaper employees, readers, and advertisers.
"Every time you see the phrase 'special to The Commercial Appeal' in a reporter's byline, you're reading work by someone who doesn't receive health insurance," Connolly said, adding that the company's use of freelancers is pushing "the outer limits" of what the current contract allows.
"Special to The Commercial Appeal" may also indicate that an article has been submitted by a reader or a publicist. Those contributors are unpaid.
"We believe that the outsourcing of news work to freelancers would accelerate if the company receives the unlimited right to do so," Connolly said. "Staff reporters like me would likely be laid off, lose our health insurance and other benefits, and be told that we could continue as freelancers."
Connolly suggests that those interested in what's happening at The Commercial Appeal should join the Facebook cause "Save Local News and Local Jobs."
Recently, some subscribers to the CA also were asked by phone which edition they would miss the least if the newspaper were to begin publishing fewer days a week. It has long been rumored that the daily might resort to such a measure to cut costs.