The Providence Journal and its largest union, the Providence Newspaper Guild, have reached a tentative deal on a new three-year contract that will freeze wages and raise medical costs for the union’s roughly 250 members.
“We will lose some ground economically under the proposed agreement, and if this were five years ago, we wouldn’t even consider it,” the Guild said in a statement.
“But when you look at the devastating job losses in the newspaper business nationally and the downward trend in salaries and benefits in New England [newspaper employee] contracts over the past three years, we feel this is a deal we can live with,” it continued.
Guild President John Hill could not immediately be reached for comment. The new contract is scheduled to take effect on April 1, and its provisions include:
- on health insurance, 10% co-pays for most medical services, a new deductible, and higher premium contributions
- a wage freeze that calls for no raises at the Projo until other A.H. Belo employees receive cumulative increases of more than 2.5%, because Guild members did not take a companywide 2.5% pay cut in 2009
- three paid days off in the contract’s first year if other A.H. Belo workers get a raise
Judging by the Guild’s statement, the health changes will be the toughest for its members to swallow. Here’s the union’s explanation of why it agreed to what it did:
The major changes in the agreement are in how we pay for our health insurance. Our current health plan was negotiated in 2007, well before the credit collapse triggered a near-depression in the news business that has seen papers across the country either go out of business or shed a quarter to a third of their staffs.
Our current health coverage plan was negotiated with a Providence Journal Co. that had 120 more employees than it does now, before three straight years of double-digit revenue drops.
In the surveys we distributed last fall, a huge majority said your top priority was protecting our health coverage – and you said you were willing to pay more to do that. That’s what this agreement does.
The changes don’t affect coverage. The doctor networks remain the same. The conditions and procedures that were covered before, except for in-vitro fertilization, remain covered in the proposed agreement. What changes is how much we pay. …
These are significant changes, especially when you look at our 2007 plan, which, but for a few office visit copays, essentially provided completely covered medical care. But when you look at the rest of Belo, we are still far, far better off.
I’ll update with more information if I can get John Hill on the phone. The Projo has about 320 workers who are unionized in total, so about 70 of them won’t be covered by this contract – although their contracts usually track the Guild’s.
For more on the Projo, check out my catch-all post from November.