Thursday, March 25, 2010

Commercial Appeal Makes "Final Offer" to Newspaper Guild Employees

Posted By on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 2:10 PM

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. On February 19, the CA's bargaining team put what was described as a “final offer” on the table, an offer that doesn't give the Guild the one thing it's fought for for so long. The Guild's now-expired contract -- which has remained in effect due to an evergreen clause -- allows the newspaper to outsource any job from any department, but it also insures that employees can't be outsourced out of a job. CA reporter and Guild president Daniel Connolly says that the company's final offer gives newspaper management the right to fire any employee and outsource any job.    

The CA has outsourced positions in the past. Currently workers in India design some of the ads that appear in the newspaper. “And workers in Memphis end up fixing their mistakes,” Connolly says.    

The Guild has yet to craft a formal response and, according to Connolly, no date has been set for the next contract bargaining meeting. The organization is now considering its options and is working to educate the public about what’s in the final offer and what it might mean for employees -- and the newspaper's readers and advertisers.    

The CA's most recent offer includes immediate employee raises of 4 percent, 3 percent one year later, and 2 percent a year after that. That should be welcome news, considering the number of years Guild employees have gone without a raise.    

“That might seem like good news, especially in a weak economy,” Connolly says. “But the bad news is that the company wants the right to fire everyone and outsource everything. And a 4 percent raise on a salary of zero is zero.”     

The CA has seen numerous layoffs in recent years. Like many over-leveraged American newspaper companies, the newspaper's parent company, E.W. Scripps Co. has been engaged in a steady process of outsourcing and consolidation.

Some of the company's accounting work has been turned over the Indian company Infosys. Connolly says the Scripps chain is also centralizing its copy editing and design operations. “Those jobs are particularly vulnerable to future outsourcing,” he says, noting that those are some of the areas hardest hit by layoffs. It's the Guild's opinion that the outsourcing of these positions hasn’t happened yet because of the current contract.    

In the past, the Guild has become increasingly concerned with the amount of editorial work being done by freelancers. “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 and other benefits from The Commercial Appeal,” Connolly says, adding that that the company’s use of freelancers is currently pushing “the outer limits” of what the contract allows. "Special to The Commercial Appeal” may also indicate that an article has been submitted by a reader or a publicist, not a professional freelance writer. Those contributors are unpaid.

“I personally believe the company has crossed the line,” he says. “We believe that the outsourcing of news work to freelancers would accelerate if the company receives the unlimited right to do it. 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.    

“On a personal note, I want to add that I have a wonderful job and I have good bosses, and that I want The Commercial Appeal to succeed,” Connolly says. “And there’s a way to make that happen that doesn’t involve mass layoffs and shipping out jobs to other countries and states.”    

In addition to layoffs, in recent years the CA has scaled back its home delivery operations and shrunk the size of its physical product. Company representatives have repeatedly told employees that in spite of decreased ad revenue it continues to be profitable.    

Connolly suggests that those interested finding about what’s happening at The Commercial Appeal should join the Facebook cause “Save Local News and Local Jobs.”

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