|Members of Rochester Local 1170 working the machine at the Democrat and Chronicle. From left: Gary Diehl, Dave Evangelista, Ken Anderson, Anthony Barbato. Members have been in negotiations with the company since November 2015.
For almost a year, members of Rochester, NY CWA Local 1170 employed at the Democrat and Chronicle, Gannett’s flagship newspaper, have been in negotiations for a new contract.
“Since 1998, the company has taken a hardline in negotiations – demanding pay concessions, as well as freezing the company pension, eliminating retiree health insurance for new hires and reducing health insurance benefits,” said Local 1170 President John Pusloskie. “We’ve been in negotiations since last November with essentially no negotiations taking place during that time frame.”
In 1998, members of Empire Media Local 15 merged with CWA Local 1170 to form the current collective bargaining unit at the Democrat and Chronicle. Pusloskie says that up until 2008, the Union and the company had relatively good labor relations.
“Beginning in 2008, the company took a hardline demanding draconian cuts that included a 15 percent pay cut.”
According to Printing, Publishing and Media Workers Sector-CWA (PPMWS) Staff Representative Steve DeIanni, when negotiations opened, the company was looking to gain flexibility in their scheduling, which would allow the company to create either four or five shifts per week ranging from five to 10 hours per shift. The proposed schedule would still allow for the full-time requirement of 37.5 hours per week. The company also was looking for changes to the absenteeism policy, benefit changes that paralleled the non-union workforce, flexibility for the company to reduce the required minimum full-time number, the ability to contract out work, and they were looking to remove critical language in our jurisdiction that would paralyze the unit; all without entertaining a wage increase.
After that initial offer last year, Vincent Floyd, Senior Counsel, Labor Relations for Gannet, took over negotiations for the company. The company also made other management changes that caused negotiations to stall. The two parties would hardly meet over the next several months.
“Finally, in August the company made another offer. The proposal included a general wage increase,” said Pusloskie. “While it is movement in a positive direction, the members are looking for a fair standard of living raise and that’s not what the company offered in their proposal.”
“Eight years ago, members at the Democrat and Chronicle took a 15 percent pay cut. They have never been made whole since,” said Chapel Chairman Rahn Dagostino. “The company is trying to drive a wedge into the union by offering wage increases at the cost of members’ jobs and security.”
“Our members are united,” said DeIanni. “Every Thursday, throughout our bargaining, they have worn their red CWA shirts that read ‘United We Stand.’ And we’ve seen really positive effects.”
But the company has a long and storied history of dragging out its negotiations with unions. In 2008, nearly 16 years after its last contract expired, members of The Newspaper Guild-CWA Local 31017 finally ratified a contract with the company. During its negotiations, the Guild ran advertising campaigns and set up an online public petition highlighting the tenuous nature of the negotiations.
For now, PPMWS members haven’t had to go that route. But, DeIanni says, “we want the membership to start preparing to take other actions if, and when, necessary. We need to start putting more pressure on the Company in order to continue our progress.”
DeIanni says that the membership’s display of unity has softened several of the company’s previous demands.
“Since the members have started wearing their shirts we’ve seen the company drop several of their demands, including: contracting out work, removing crucial jurisdiction language, changes to the absenteeism policy. And, they’ve made the first offer of a wage increase in eight years.”
But, DeIanni says, the company is still pushing back on other demands.
“Management is still trying to lower the full-time manning number by 50 percent as well as asking for other changes that the union isn’t comfortable with. So, although we’ve made some progress, we aren’t their yet.”
In the meantime, the negotiating committee stresses that members need to continue to wear their red shirts every Thursday and they encourage everyone to get involved, show solidarity and fight for a better contract.
“Remember, UNITED WE BARGAIN, DIVIDED WE BEG,” said DeIanni.