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ProJo and Guild reach agreement on new pact

In remarkable contrast to the acrimony that preceded their current pact, the Providence Journal and the Providence Newspaper Guild reached agreement yesterday on a new three-year contract, intended to run from January 1 through the end of 2010. The deal includes a three percent raise in the first year; two percent or whatever is received by the Teamsters or the Pressmans' Union, whichever is higher, in the second year; and the same raise as the other unions in the final year.

Members of the Guild, which represents more than 400 reporters, photographers, and other workers at the ProJo, are scheduled to vote on the contract January 9. The union's bargaining committee has unanimously recommended voting in favor of it.

The Guild's last contract agreement, in 2003, came after four years of a divisive union-management battle that left many employees with a bitter taste following the Belo Corporation's 1997 acquisition of the ProJo. The pain of the last battle, as I reported earlier this month, left both sides in a decidely more collaborative state of mind. 

"It's a pleasant change," Guild administrator Tim Schick says. "To be in a situation where you can have constructive dialogue and work at problem-solving, not just in terms of this round of bargaining, but in what's been going on in the last couple of years [is] a lot more preferable than duking it out and litigating everything. It's the way labor relations should be practiced. It doesn't mean we resolved all our problems .... but we currently have a better situation than most newspapers do."

Schick calls the agreement "a reasonable deal given the state of the economy and what's been going on in the newspaper industry right now." Initial feedback "is that most people are satisfied with it. There are aspects that some people don't like, but ultimately we'll know where the members stand on January 9."

The deal comes as the ProJo reports today that Belo is writing down the value of Rhode Island's statewide daily:

The Providence Journal is worth less today than it was 10 years ago, when it was bought by Belo Corp., of Dallas, Texas.

The same is true for a newspaper in Riverside, Calif., which Belo also bought 10 years ago.

To account for the decline in value of its Providence and Riverside newspapers, Belo will have to lower the value of the assets it carries on its balance sheet. Belo’s net worth — the amount by which the company’s total assets exceed its total liabilities — will probably drop, too.

The write-down in the value of the Providence and Riverside properties will also result in a charge against Belo’s earnings for the three-month period that will end Dec. 31, according to a document that Belo has filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington, D.C.

Here are some of the additional highlights of the new contract agreement, as described on the Guild's Web site:

Medical benefits: No change, employees will still pay 15 percent of the health care co-pay.

Upgrades: Upgrades for 31 employees, with wage increases ranging from of 5.2 to 8.7 percent

 

Sales goals: The Company will now provide advertising reps with sales incentives within 10 business days of any new goals period.

 

Short-term disability: Employees will now receive 70 percent of their total pay while out on STD; except following childbirth, which will remain at 100 percent.

 

Cell phone policy: Employees required to use their cell phones for work will receive a minimum of $50 a month in reimbursement.

 

Mileage reimbursement: The auto allowance has been increased to $50 a week.

 

Online video: A two-year trial period between Company and Guild has been agreed to on the use of online sound and video on ProJo.com.

 

Leaves of absence: Long-term disability leaves will be capped at one year and a system of light duty work will be implemented for employees injured on the job.

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