The unions at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal, and the Morning Sentinel have approved the latest contract. (See below for the text of the contract.) This apparently frees MaineToday Media to seek refinancing of its debt and make a sizeable investment in technology.
In votes tallied separately in Portland and Waterville, there were 118 yes votes and 6 no votes in Portland; 11 yes votes, zero no votes, and one abstention in Waterville. (Not every union member voted; turnout in Portland was set at 72 percent, according to union correspondence.)
At first blush, it appears to represent a major victory for the company over the union. The union was clear from the outset that "we'll be looking for raises," as union president Tom Bell told me back in February, even before the last contract ran out at the end of June. Instead, they got a promise that early next year, the union and the company will meet to negotiate "wage rates," among other issues. No wage increases have happened since 2009, and the promise to meet does not include a promise to provide raises in 2012. The contract lasts until the end of June 2013.
It also appears to allow important business decisions to happen behind the scenes. Here is a memo sent out by the union's negotiations committee yesterday, while the election was proceeding:
The proposed new Guild contract with MaineToday Media is not just a labor agreement. It is critical component of a sophisticated business plan that will allow the company to move forward. It is one of the necessary steps required before the company can refinance its bank loan and commit to an investment of several million dollars for new technology.
Moreover, the contract preserves all the key provisions of our current contract, such as the use of seniority during layoffs, protections for most workers against out-sourcing, the 37.5 hour work week, vacation, overtime, and the company match on health care premiums.The company and the union this spring will negotiate issues related to compensation and new performance standards.The election process is occurring more quickly that normal because we are trying to meet important financial deadlines. We thank you for your understanding of this unusual situation. Members of the Negotiations Committee are available to answer your questions.The Negotiations Committee asks you to vote "yes" today. Voting in Portland is taking place in the 5th floor lunch room and ends at 6:30 p.m. tonight.In Solidarity,The Negotiations CommitteeTom Bell, Kathy Munroe, Erick Druck, David Northrup, Julia McCue, Carol Semple, Travis Lazarcyk, Tim Schick