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At Issue in the ProJo Negotiations: Health Care and Wages

Wages and health care are the central issues in contract negotiations between ProJo management and the Providence Newspaper Guild, which represents editorial and advertising staff.

The paper has proposed a two-year deal - shorter than usual - that would cut wages by 2.5 percent in the first year and tie wages in the second year to whatever the ProJo's other unions get. The paper has also asked for sole discretion over the terms of the employees' health care plan.

The latter request has some of the rank-and-file uneasy. But John Hill, a reporter and president of the guild, says he is not surprised by the proposal and reads it, more than anything else, as a broad declaration of the company's concern over health care costs. Hill says the union understands the concern and is developing a counterproposal.

Much of the company took a 2.5 percent pay cut last year. Management asked the guild to do the same, but could not impose the cut because the union's contract protected against such a move. Hill says the guild was willing to negotiate - after a second wave of layoffs in a matter of months in March 2009, the union was open to trading a pay cut for some job security - but the paper declined.

Recently, when the company doled out bonuses to employees - a kind of make-up for the cuts endured by non-guild employees last year - union members got the bonuses, too, because of a "me too" clause in the contract.

So, given that history, the pay cut proposal was not much of a surprise either.

The most recent bargaining session, mid-week, resolved a couple of minor housekeeping issues. The big ones still remain. The current contract expires at the end of the year.  

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