The Denver Newspaper Guild has ratified a contract covering newsroom employees at the Denver Post, and as part of the deal, the broadsheet will become a closed shop, with all workers required to join the union. Yet DNG administrative officer Tony Mulligan isn't exactly celebrating, since the deal also calls for the paper's main pension plan to be frozen in just over a year.
"It's not a good contract," Mulligan allows, "but we believe it was the best that was available to us."
Clearly, the vast majority of the membership came to the same conclusion: According to the Guild, the final vote on the two-year agreement, which runs through September 10, 2014, was 94.7 percent in favor of ratification, with 5.3 percent opposed.
According to Mulligan, "the significant change is the local pension plan will be frozen effective January 2013, meaning that nobody will earn future benefit service beyond that date. Everybody will be vested in what they have as of January 2013, and there will be a double-benefit credit for 2012 -- so that's the equivalent of the plan not being frozen until 2014. But no local service will exist after that."
As Mulligan notes, members also have a second, multi-employer plan, the Denver Newspaper Guild International Pension Fund. But he calls that plan "minimal" and "supplemental."
The transition of the Post to an all-union structure may strike some observers as ironic, given that publisher Dean Singleton is hardly the biggest union booster: Recall that he was the driving force behind a 2007 front-page editorial criticizing then-Governor Bill Ritter for issuing an executive order allowing state employees to unionize. Still, this change for Post employees "wasn't a trade-off in bargaining," Mulligan emphasizes. "The employer said yes to a union shop early on, so it wasn't a quid-pro-quo for anything. The overarching thing in bargaining was that the employer had to control costs...and the expense and the volatility of pension plans, and the unpredictable funding requirements, are preventing a lot of employers from agreeing to continue them. We're not alone."
Moreover, he goes on, "the union shop costs them nothing. So saying 'no' to the union shop didn't fit in their stated needs to control costs."
On that subject, the contract provides a small increase in the minimum wage paid to the Post's YourHub staff. But a wage freeze has been instituted for the majority of other employees through the life of the contract.
Nonetheless, a letter sent by the unit chair to newsroom employees who are not yet Guild members tries to put the best spin on signing up -- not that there's any choice in the matter.
The letter reads:
As many of you have heard, Guild members ratified a new contract for the newsroom on Sept. 25th. One condition of this contract requires all Guild-covered employees to become members and start paying dues within 30 days. I am sending this e-mail because, as a condition of continued employment, you are now required to join the Guild.
You should receive a letter soon with more details. The letter will contain a membership application card and cards allowing automatic dues deduction from your paycheck. Please fill out and sign these cards and return them to a newsroom steward or the Guild office.
For years, the Denver Newspaper Guild has worked to ensure wages, benefits and working conditions at The Post are the best of any newspaper in the region. If you are asking why it's worth it for you to join the Guild, I will point to the restoration of concessions we got in 2011 and earlier this year. Those were a direct result of union efforts. No other newspaper employees in the U.S. have gotten back what they gave up during the dark days of the recession.
Please contact myself, any newsroom steward or Tony Mulligan at the Guild office.
I and two-thirds of your colleagues in the newsroom who are already members welcome you to the Guild.
Not everyone at the Post is pleased with the requirement to join the Guild or look for another gig. For instance, one staffer sent us several links to the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, including one asking, "Can I be required to be a union member or pay union dues?" (answer: yes) and another providing details about the procedure to launch a deauthorization election.
As for feedback on the contract, Mulligan told us earlier this week that he hadn't received any -- and he thinks he knows why few complaints have surfaced.
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"Employees are aware of the economic realities of our industry," he says. "It's not new that employees in our industry and at the Post have been asked to work with the employer to make the numbers work. And we've done it again."
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