By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Guild e-mail paints dark picture

The Boston Newspaper Guild’s insurance consultant, Bonnie Hanisch, has sent an e-mail to Guild members at the Boston Globe showing that they could bring home slightly more money if they approve a package of concessions totaling $10 million when they vote on July 20. (Media Nation obtained a copy earlier today.)

The cost, though, is high: a brutal reduction in health-insurance and retirement benefits. In fact, the consultant’s math is based on an assumption that the average Guild member would choose to reduce her or his 401(k) contribution from 10 percent of salary to 4 percent if the package is rejected, as a similar package was on June 8. Hold the 401(k) contributions steady, and employees would actually make less money with a “yes” vote than with a “no” vote.

So why would anyone vote yes? If the concessions are approved, salaries will be cut by 9 percent (including eight unpaid days off). If they are rejected, the 23 percent pay cut implemented after the “no” vote remains in place.

The e-mail has led to some speculation that the Guild is quietly pushing for another “no” vote, the Phoenix’s Adam Reilly reports. Poynter Institute business analyst Rick Edmonds describes the situation facing Guild members as “a choice between a punch in the gut now or being slapped upside the head later,” with a “yes” vote merely deferring some of the pain.

Yesterday I had a chance to talk with a few Globe staff members about the vote and whether they think the concessions will be approved this time around. The rough consensus: yes, but there is deep anger at the New York Times Co. over its highhandedness and lack of straightforwardness in communicating with Globe employees.

Look for the vote to be close once again.

The full text of Hanisch’s e-mail follows:

The Executive Committee, along with the Governing Board, has asked that I reiterate some of the questions that came up this weekend, along with an example of how you could mitigate the 23% if the contract is not ratified.

First, our medical plan renews on May 1st of each year. Our premiums increased from Harvard Pilgrim by approximately $500,000. At that time, there was an estimated $300,000 in the Taft Hartley Health Fund, and we were expecting an additional $200,000 of new health fund quids that had been negotiated in the last bargaining negotiations. Hence, there was no rate change/contribution changes to the employees.

On April 7th, we began the $10 million concession meetings with the company. Ultimately, part of the concessions was approximately $1.3 million in health care quids that had been negotiated over the past 20 years.

What this means to you — whether the contract is ratified or not, your health insurance contribution rates will increase next May 1, 2010. Based on our estimates, if the contract is ratified, we need $2.5 million of employee contributions. If the contract is not ratified, we need $1 million of employee contributions. (Health care increases are based on the medical claims of this group and those that are participating. These estimates are based on the same health care costs, and an estimated 5% increase.)

If the contract is not ratified, here is an example of how to reduce your costs:

If Ratified
Average Salary: $58,000
Family Health Insurance: -$ 5,492
401K Deductions (Average person in BNG is 10%): -$5,800
Taxes (FICA, FUTA, SUTA, Fed; est. 30%): -$14,012
8 Furlough/Unpaid Days: -$2,231
TOTAL: $30,463*

If Not Ratified
Average Salary: $44,660 (23% reduction)
Family Health Insurance: -$1,170
401K Deductions (change to 4%): -$1,786
Taxes: -$12,511
Zero Furlough/Unpaid Days: $0
TOTAL: $29,193

Difference of $1,270 or $24.42 per week.

If the contract is not ratified, you keep the $1.3 million of quids; you keep the pension plan; you keep the retiree health insurance; you keep the 401(k) match, etc.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me at xxx.

Thank you.

Bonnie M. Hanisch, CEBS
Boston Insurance Group

*As alert Media Nation commenter Tony points out, Hanisch’s math is a bit off — the number should be $30,465.

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  1. Tony

    I must be missing something. I get $30,465 for the first amount … Umm, I have to say, that either $58,000 or $44k-plus are very good salaries for editors and reporters when compared to what some are getting in the journalism world right now … Most editors and reporters in non-union shops aren't getting anywhere near that; they aren't getting access to a pension plan or "quids"; they have or probably will lose their 401k match; etc. … In other words, the union should probably not listen to the fossils and instead, realize [and understand] that the world is a different place than it once was, for everyone, even the "immortal" Brian Mooney. Unfortunately, if we want to stay in journalism and we're not an owner or upper management, we're going to have to make concessions. Or, we can move onto the Wal-Mart or Starbucks … Oh, they aren't hiring either …

  2. Tony

    Hey, what's two bucks between friends?

  3. George F. Snell III

    I think the Guild is sitting on a more powerful seat than it realizes. The Times Co. needs to ratify this package to move forward with a sale. If the Guild flexes its muscles with a threat of a walk-out or work stoppage they could negotiate a better deal.What do they have to lose by voting no? Does anyone really think the Times Co. will shut down the newspaper? Wouldn't that do more damage to them than the Guild?It's interesting to consider: in the end, the Guild should vote for what it deems the best deal for its members.

  4. Treg

    George F. Snell III – Exactly.

  5. InsiderNegot

    GFS3: Enjoyed your piece. You are right, the Guild should vote in their best interests. However, if the Guild Leadership thought that a no vote was the way to go, then they should have said so and stuck to their guns and not signed a piece of paper that said they would endorse and reccomend the agreement. At the end of the day, the members will have the final say as it should be. Difficult negotiations are one thing, but the Guild may have severly hampered their ability to represent their members going forward. The closing of the Globe was never a threat as far as the Guild was concerned as they implemented the 23% pay cut.Still a close call, but if the 23% pay cut has been tolerable for a number of Guild members, it just may go down again.

  6. Bill Toscano

    And they will still have jobs.These people have no idea what it is like in the real world.They have these long-established contracts and are feel an incredible entitlement.It's not just the Globe union, but they seem especially egregious.

  7. Tony

    Oh Bill T., thank you! You're right. These people do have no idea what is going on in the real world and, frankly, it's not just the Globe union. It's a lot of them. I'm still incensed that there are state troopers and cops on details earning $48 an hour when flaggers make $9 to $11 in most states. That is needless millions that could be spent on repairing more infrastructure! If they want to sit in their cars and drink coffee for $9 an hour, fine. But not $48!The economic times today should be a perfect opportunity for union to build membership, especially with the way private sector employees are getting hammered. Work stoppages and negotiations in the past were built on rough economic times when people were getting pinched by the bosses. But instead of even trying, the unions are only focused on saving the crumbs for their own. So, in order to counter their protecting of their own, those of us who are out in the real world, paying their bills, have to do what's best for ourselves too … and that's why there is such a revolt by property taxpayers in some of these towns paying huge amounts of money to municipal employees, generalizing …This coming from a person from a union household who has also personally and professional always supported unions. It's so disheartening.

  8. Mike Saunders

    Actually, Bill, there are many Guild members who have an extremely good grasp of what's going on in the world…which is why we voted yes the first time around. We knew that we wouldn't get much, if anything, from a no vote. We knew that the Times would impose the 23 percent pay cut. We knew that in such a down economy, we needed to retreat to fight another day. Some of our colleagues didn't see it the same way. Some of them are close to retirement and want another year of pension service to bump up their monthly nut when they leave. Some are custodians, ad clerks, classified ad takers, and assorted others with lifetime job guarantees who feel their job security is tenuous at best. (The Globe and Times just spent millions on an SAP databasing system that will make many jobs redundant.)These are the people fighting hardest for a "No" vote. They may feel they have little future with a new company…or in new media. That's not true of many people within the same walls.

  9. InsiderNegot

    Mike: You hit the nail on the head. So many people, in fact I would say most, in the building are very aware of the economy in general and the newspaper business in particular. That is why so many of the other unions have reached agreements, very difficult agreements. Those members and the leaders of those unions made the hard choice to accept MAJOR change. I just cannot understand the strategy of Guild leadership at this point. Either you fight or you don't. You either endorse and reccomend, or you don't. The events of the last few days, in my view, have severly hampered the Guild's ability to represent its members with this owner or the next. That is too bad because as always, in the end, the members pay the price of poor leadership.

  10. Tony

    Thanks for more details Mike. I know it isn't easy for many of you and it's not easy to say so online. Ignore the fossils, save your own skin, and do the best you can for journalism's sake. If the old timers like Brian Mooney don't like it, there are others more than happy to take his place. And those that may take his place will cover politics with more accuracy, thoroughness, thoughtfulness, and much less pettiness than he has in the past.

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